Las Vegas is well known as the “city of sin” where you can get or do almost anything you want. However, even in a city that prides itself on allowing people to indulge in their vices, Federal Laws cannot be overridden. Consequently, even in Nevada, the minimum drinking age is 21, and anyone caught providing alcohol to a minor is subject to harsh penalties.

What is the legal definition of a furnishing or aiding a minor in obtaining alcohol?

Furnishing or aiding a minor in obtaining alcoholic beverages is governed by NRS 202.015, and 202.055.

NRS 202.015 – “Alcoholic beverage” defined.

For the purposes of NRS 202.015 to 202.065, inclusive, “alcoholic beverage” means:

  1. Beer, ale, porter, stout and other similar fermented beverages, including sake and similar products, of any name or description containing one-half of 1 percent or more alcohol by volume, brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute therefor;
  2. Any beverage obtained by the fermentation o the natural content of fruits or other agricultural products containing sugar, of not less than one-half of 1 percent of alcohol by volume;
  3. Any distilled spirits commonly referred to as ethyl alcohol, ethanol or spirits of wine in any form, including all dilutions and mixtures thereof from whatever process produced.

NRS 202.055 – Sale or furnishing of alcoholic beverage to minor; aiding minor to purchase or procure alcoholic beverage; policy to prevent minor from obtaining alcoholic beverage through use of Internet.

  1. Every person who knowingly:
    1. Sells, gives or otherwise furnishes an alcoholic beverage to any person under 21 years of age;
    2. Leaves or deposits any alcoholic beverage in any place with the intent that it will be procured by any person under 21 years of age; or
    3. Furnishes, gives, or causes to be given any money or thing of value to any person under 21 years of age with the knowledge that the money or thing of value is to be used by the person under 21 years of age to purchase or procure any alcoholic beverage,
  • is guilty of a misdemeanor.
  1. Paragraph (a) of subsection 1 does not apply to a parent, guardian or physician of the person under 21 years of age.
  2. Every person who sells, gives or otherwise furnishes alcoholic beverages through the use of the Internet shall adopt a policy to prevent a person under 21 years of age from obtaining an alcoholic beverage from the person through the use of the Internet. The policy must include, without limitation, a method for ensuring that the person who delivers the alcoholic beverages obtains the signature of a person who is over the age of 21 years when delivering the beverages and that the packaging or wrapping of the alcoholic beverages when they are shipped is clearly marked with words that describe the alcoholic beverages. A person who fails to adopt a policy pursuant to this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500.

I read the section on Underage Drinking and it said that legal guardians can give their children alcohol. How does this differ from that exception?

That exception only applies to the spouse, parent, or legal guardian of the minor. Anyone else who sells or provides alcohol to a minor is, therefore, in violation of NRS 202.055. This law, therefore applies to anyone who:

  • Sells alcohol to a person under 21;
  • Gives alcohol to someone under 21;
  • Leaving alcohol somewhere with the intent that someone under 21 will retrieve it; or
  • Giving money to someone under 21, knowing that the minor will use the money to obtain alcohol.

Please Note: Violations of NRS 202.055 require knowledge that a minor is being furnished with alcohol.

What about websites that sell alcohol? How do they avoid getting in trouble?

Companies that sell alcohol over the internet have certain requirements that they must adhere to in order to avoid liability under NRS 202.055, including:

  • Clearly marking the packaging as containing alcohol so that the recipient is aware of the contents and that there is an age restriction; and
  • Requiring the signature of a recipient, 21 years of age, or older.

Is there anything else I should know?

Yes. Depending on the exact circumstances, prosecutors may be able to charge other crimes, including, but not limited to:

  • Contributing to the delinquency of a minor (for a more in-depth discussion, click here.); or
  • Minor in possession of alcohol (for a more in-depth discussion, click here.).

What are the possible penalties?

Knowingly furnishing alcohol to a minor is a misdemeanor and can carry the possible sentence of:

  • Up to 6 months in jail; and/or
  • Possible fines up to $1,000.

As noted above, any company that sells alcohol over the internet, but does not adopt adequate safeguards to prevent minors from using the service and can also be charged with a misdemeanor, and will be facing:

  • Possible fines up to $500.

Similarly, bars and saloons that knowingly permit underage people to remain on the premises can also be charged with a misdemeanor for which the possible penalties include:

  • Possible fines up to $500.

Please Note: It is very important to understand that all of the above mentioned crimes require knowledge that the minor is under the age of 21. If the accused reasonably believes that the minor is at least 21, then none of the above charges should apply.

Are there any Defenses?

Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:

  • Parent, Guardian, Spouse, or Doctor – As with the other underage drinking laws, there are certain exceptions. If the person furnishing the alcohol is the parent or legal guardian of the minor, then they are allowed to provide alcohol to their child, in moderation. Similarly, someone who is at least 21 years of age is allowed to give alcohol to their spouse who is younger than 21 years of age, so long as it is in moderation. Finally, someone licensed to write medical prescriptions can write prescriptions for a minor that include moderate amounts of alcohol. However, if the minor is allowed to drink to excess, then a parent, guardian, spouse or doctor could potentially face charges for child abuse, neglect and endangerment or for the crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. None of these exceptions apply to a business that sells alcohol.
  • No knowledge – As noted above, if the person furnishing the alcohol reasonably believes that the other person is not a minor, then they cannot be charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor. For example, if the minor is using a convincing fake ID, then the adult should not be charged for the intentional misrepresentations of the minor. Since the prosecutor will not be able to prove that the adult had knowledge that the minor was underage, the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
  • Minor Took the Alcohol Deviously – As the saying goes, ‘kids will be kids.’ Sometimes, if kids want to get alcohol, they will go to extreme lengths to obtain it. In writing the laws for underage drinking, the Legislature understood that adults should not be held responsible for the devious actions of a minor who took alcohol without the adult’s knowledge. If the prosecutor’s cannot prove that you knew that the alcohol was being taken or consumed, then the knowledge element of the crime does not exist and the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
  • Lack of Evidence – As with any crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is not enough evidence to uphold this high level of proof, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with Furnishing alcohol to a Minor?

As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.

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