MINOR IN POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL
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 under the age of 21 is subject to harsh penalties if they are caught drinking or in possession of alcohol.
What is the legal definition of Underage Drinking?
Underage drinking is governed by NRS 202.015, and 202.020.
NRS 202.015 – “Alcoholic beverage” defined.
For the purposes of NRS 202.015 to 202.065, inclusive, “alcoholic beverage” means:
- 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;
- 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;
- 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 202.020 – Purchase, consumption or possession of alcoholic beverage by minor; penalties; exceptions.
- Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person under 21 years of age who purchases any alcoholic beverage or any such person who consumes any alcoholic beverage in any saloon, resort or premises where spirituous, malt or fermented liquors or wines are sold is guilty of a misdemeanor.
- Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person under 21 years of age who, for any reason, possesses any alcoholic beverage in public is guilty of a misdemeanor.
- A person under 21 years of age is not subject to the criminal penalty set forth in subsection 1 for consuming an alcoholic beverage or subsection 2 if the person requests emergency medical assistance for another person whom he or she reasonably believes is under 21 years of age if the person making the request:
- Reasonably believes that the person who consumed the alcohol is in need of such assistance because of the alcohol consumption;
- Is the first person to request emergency medical assistance;
- Remains with the person until informed that his or her presence is no longer necessary by the emergency medical personnel who respond to the request for assistance for the person; and
- Cooperates with any provider of emergency medical assistance, any other health care provider who assists the person who may be in need of emergency medical assistance because of alcohol consumption and any law enforcement officer.
- A person under 21 years of age for whom another person requests emergency medical assistance pursuant to subsection 3 is not subject to the criminal penalty set forth in subsection 1 for consuming an alcoholic beverage or subsection 2.
- A person under 21 years of age is not subject to the criminal penalty set forth in subsection 1 for consuming an alcoholic beverage or subsection 2 if the person:
- Requests emergency medical assistance because he or she reasonably believes that he or she is in need of medical assistance because of alcohol consumption; and
- Cooperates with any provider of emergency medical assistance, any other health care provider who provides assistance to him or her and any law enforcement officer.
- This section does not preclude a local governmental entity from enacting by ordinance an additional or broader restriction, except that any such ordinance must not conflict with the provisions of subsection 3, 4 or 5 or create criminal liability for a person to whom an exemption set forth in subsection 3, 4 or 5 applies.
- For the purposes of this section, possession “in public” includes possession:
- On any street or highway;
- In any place open to the public; and
- In any private business establishment which is in effect open to the public.
- The term does not include:
- Possession for an established religious purpose;
- Possession in the presence of the person’s parent, spouse or legal guardian who is 21 years of age or older;
- Possession in accordance with a prescription issued by a person statutorily authorized to issue prescriptions;
- Possession in private clubs or private establishments; or
- The selling, handling, serving or transporting of alcoholic beverages by a person in the course of his or her lawful employment by a licensed manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer of alcoholic beverages.
What exactly do the “underage drinking” laws prohibit?
This is one of the few laws that are pretty straightforward. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to:
- Purchase an alcoholic beverage in any bar, saloon or other business where alcoholic beverages of any kind are sold;
- Consume alcoholic beverages in any bar, saloon or other business where alcoholic beverages of any kind are sold; or
- Possess alcoholic beverages in any public area (including private businesses open to the public).
Of course, as with most things, there are exceptions:
- Religious Purpose – there are numerous religious ceremonies and practices that involve the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages, even by minors. In such circumstance (for example, during Mass or Passover Seder), the above laws do not apply. This should seem fairly obvious given that the first Amendment protects most religious practices.
- Parental or Spousal Consent – If the minor’s parent, guardian or spouse is present and over the age of 21, then it is not illegal for a minor to possess alcohol. Again, this should seem somewhat obvious; if the minor’s legal guardian gives permission, then the government will not step in to dictate how a child is reared. Please Note: This does not mean that a minor can be given permission to purchase or consume alcohol in public. Essentially, this exception only allows minors to possess alcohol while in public.
- Medical Purposes – If the minor is given a prescription that includes the possession and/or consumption of specific alcoholic beverages, then they are not liable for following the medical provider’s orders.
- Private Establishments – As noted above underage drinking is illegal in public places. However, if the minor is in a private establishment that is not open to the public, then the possession of an alcoholic beverage is not against the law.
- Course of Employment – The selling, handling, serving or transporting of alcoholic beverages as part of the minor’s employment is not considered a violation of Underage drinking laws.
How are the Underage Drinking laws prosecuted?
Generally speaking, minors younger than 18 are prosecuted in the juvenile court system. If found guilty, the court will deem the minor a “delinquent.”
For minors 18, 19, or 20, charges are prosecuted in the criminal courts.
What are the possible penalties?
For minors under the age of 18, a conviction for “Minor in Possession of Alcohol” will include:
- Up to 6 months in a juvenile detention center;
- Possible fines up to $1,000′
- Attending a rehabilitation program (if the minor is deemed an addict after a court mandated evaluation); and/or
- Suspension of the minor’s driver’s license for at least 9 months and possibly up to 2 years.
For minors 18, 19, or 20 years of age, a conviction can carry with it:
- Up to 6 months in Jail;
- Possible fines up to $1,000;
- Attending a rehabilitation program (again, only if the minor is deemed an addict after a court ordered evaluation); and/or
- Suspension of the driver’s license for some time between 9 months and 2 years.
Please Note: In many circumstances, judges will require community service in place of jail time.
What if I need my driver’s license to get to work or school?
Generally, after having their license suspended, people can get a restricted license allowing them to drive, but only for the specific purpose of getting to or from work or school. However, if you have prior similar offenses that are fairly recent, the courts will be less inclined to give you any leeway.
Are there any Defenses?
Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:
- Alcohol didn’t belong to defendant – In many circumstances, it is not always easy to tell who is “in possession” of the alcohol. If your attorney can show that the alcohol did not belong to you, or can at least show that there is a reasonable doubt that the alcohol was yours, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- Part of Employment – As noted above, if the minor possesses alcohol as part of his or her legal employment, then they have not violated the laws prohibiting Minor in Possession of Alcohol.
- Police Misconduct/Illegal Search – Evidence that is obtained through illegal searches and/or seizures is not admissible in court. It is often referred to as “fruit of the poisonous tree,” because it cannot be trusted based on the illegal means used to obtain it. Consequently, the judge should grant any motion to suppress such evidence, which will prohibit the use of the evidence at trial. If the illegally obtained evidence was necessary for a conviction, then the charges against you may be dropped or dismissed for a lack of evidence.
- 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 Minor in Possession?
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.