What Are the Consequences for A Minor In Possession Charge?

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.

What Is the Definition of Minor in Possession?

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.

What Is the Criminal Classification of Minor in Possession?

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.

What Are the Penalties for Colorado MIP?

The penalties for possession or consumption of alcohol or marijuana depend on the number of offenses.

First Conviction

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.

Second Conviction

For a second conviction of underage drinking, there are four mandatory components of the penalty.

  • A fine of up to $100
  • Completion of a substance abuse education program
  • The judge must determine if it is necessary and appropriate to order a substance abuse assessment and require completion of any treatment recommended by the assessment
  • Perform up to 24 hours of community service

Third of Subsequent Convictions

For the third and any subsequent conviction, there are three parts to the penalty.

  • A fine of up to $250
  • Mandatory substance abuse assessment and completion of alcohol education or other treatment recommended by the assessment
  • Perform up to 36 hours of community service


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.

What Is Diversion or Deferred Judgment?

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.

Isn't Marijuana Legal in Colorado?

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.

What Are the Defenses to Minor in Possession?

There are a number of exceptions and possible defenses to the minor in possession law.

Private Property With Parental Permission

A minor may drink alcohol on private property, such as a home, if three conditions are met.

  • Knowledge and consent of the owner or legal possessor (e.g., renter) of the property
  • Consent of a parent or legal guardian
  • The parent or legal guardian is present at the time of possession or consumption

Minimal Amounts

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.

Student Exception

A student may consume alcohol if the following four conditions are met.

  • Tasting under the supervision of an instructor who is 21 years or older and employed by a post-secondary school
  • Enrolled in an accredited university or post-secondary school
  • Participating in a culinary arts, food service, or restaurant management degree program
  • The tasting is part of a required course and the instructor controls the beverage other than the portion needed for tasting

Religious Exception

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.

911 Exception

An underage person is immune from arrest or prosecution if the following four conditions are met.

  • They dialed 911 with a good faith belief they or someone else needed medical assistance due to alcohol or marijuana consumption
  • They provided their name to the 911 operator
  • They were the first person to call 911
  • They remained on the line until emergency personnel arrived on scene

Factual Defenses

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.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

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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