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The legal limits of underage drinking

Zero tolerance laws aren?t the only restriction on drinking for minors. Many states have also enacted "minor in possession" or "minor in consumption" laws. These laws criminalize a minor possessing or being affected by alcohol. Think of these as similar to drug laws; it is illegal to possess cocaine regardless of whether you used it or not.

Why have MIP laws? First and foremost, state governments are trying to educate minors about the dangers of alcohol, specifically, drinking and driving. These are meant to encourage minors (students) to avoid drinking until they are ready. It is also an informal way of tracking which teenagers could be a problem and limiting their access to a license. For example, in California, a MIP conviction means that a child?s driver?s license is suspended for one year, even if they weren?t driving. If the child has no license, then the DMV will not issue one for at least one year.

What if the container was unopened? For most states, this does not matter. A minor could be charged with an MIP regardless of whether they were consuming the alcohol or not. Moreover, if the police arrest your child with an empty container but they fail a field sobriety test, that could also serve as grounds for an MIP. The purpose of these laws is to discourage minors from drinking, not to punish a specific behavior associated with drinking.

If your child is facing a minor in possession charge, then you may want to consult with a lawyer. These charges, while not as serious as drunk driving, could still have dire consequences for your child. An attorney can help make sure that the court takes into consideration your child?s mitigating circumstances like college acceptance and good grades. The last thing you want is one lapse in good judgment to follow your child around for the rest of his or her life.

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