There's no doubt that a lot of teens drink, and you may even be OK with it, but it's still against the law. That means that your teen could be arrested for minor in possession and possibly even face a criminal conviction. Here's what can happen and what you can do about it.
Minor in possession MIP is defined by Colorado Revised Statute 18-13-122 as when a person under 21 years of age possesses or consumes ethyl alcohol, marijuana, or marijuana paraphernalia.
Ethyl alcohol means the type of alcohol you would normally think of when drinking, such as beer, wine, or liquor. Marijuana paraphernalia means an object that someone knows or reasonably knows could be used for the illegal use of marijuana.
Consumption means any amount. There is no minimum amount of intoxication like a DUI charge. However, a small amount of consumption may be difficult for the prosecution to prove.
Under state law, minor in possession is an unclassified petty offense. A petty offense is lower than a misdemeanor, but it is still a crime. Under previous versions of the law, subsequent offenses could be upgraded to a class 2 misdemeanor, but this is no longer the case.
Minor in possession is not a civil offense. This means it could result in a criminal record and isn't just like a speeding ticket. There are other states where it may be a civil offense, so it's important to understand this distinction. Also, there may be cases where a police officer writes a civil ticket under a local ordinance instead of filing a criminal charge, so you need to know the exact law the charge or citation was filed under.
Remember that you can't tell whether a charge is under the criminal code or civil ordinances just by if the police took your teen into custody or gave a written citation. There are criminal citations that require a court appearance and mean the same thing as being booked for a crime at the central jail.
The penalties for possession or consumption of alcohol or marijuana depend on the number of offenses.
On the first conviction for possession of alcohol or marijuana, the court may impose a fine of up to $100, order your teen to complete a substance abuse education program, or both.
For a second conviction of underage drinking, there are four mandatory components of the penalty.
For the third and any subsequent conviction, there are three parts to the penalty.
All convictions carry an additional $25 surcharge. This can be waived on a showing of indigency. The surcharge goes toward the substance abuse treatment program fund.
Diversion or deferred judgment is an agreement where the prosecutor allows the underage person to complete certain steps in exchange for the charge being dropped. This might be the completion of a substance abuse program or community service. Once an agreement is made, the prosecutor puts the case on hold to give the underage person time to complete the required steps. This would usually be for a year or less. If you complete the steps, the charge is dropped and there is no conviction. If you don't complete the steps, the prosecutor will move forward with the criminal charges.
Colorado now treats marijuana similarly to alcohol. That includes having a minimum age of 21 to consume or possess it. So while there's no longer a criminal offense of possession of marijuana in personal use amounts, there's still a minor in possession charge that applies to teenagers.
There are a number of exceptions and possible defenses to the minor in possession law.
A minor may drink alcohol on private property, such as a home, if three conditions are met.
The minor in possession charge does not apply to minimal amounts of alcohol consumed as an ingredient in food, medicine, or a non-alcoholic beverage.
A student may consume alcohol if the following four conditions are met.
Use of alcohol or marijuana for religious purposes is protected by the First Amendment and is explicitly exempted from the State of Colorado minor in possession law.
An underage person is immune from arrest or prosecution if the following four conditions are met.
A person charged with minor in possession can also raise factual defenses. This might be that they didn't actually possess alcohol or that what they had wasn't alcohol. For example, the police might have arrested everyone at a party even if only a small amount of alcohol was present off to the side. They might also wrongfully arrest everyone with a drink in their hand without checking what each drink was.
It should be noted that the label on a can or bottle is usually enough evidence under Colorado law. A minor who the police caught with a beer can in hand would have a difficult time trying to argue they weren't possessing alcohol, but other defenses or alternatives to prosecution may be available.
If your teen is facing a minor in possession charge, a criminal defense attorney can help you explore your options. Our law firm builds strong attorney client relationships and will fight hard for your rights using the available laws. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.
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