Understanding Underage Possession of Alcohol Charges In Florida
In Florida, as in every other state in the U.S., no one under the age of 21 may possess an alcoholic beverage subject to a few exceptions such as for religious, medical or educational purposes. Some states do allow underage drinking and possession in private clubs or establishments. In Florida, a minor, or person under the age of 21, may not possess alcohol subject to two limited exceptions. The offense is also referred to as minor in possession or MIP.
For persons who are at least 18 years of age, they may possess alcohol if employed in the sale, preparation and/or service of alcoholic beverages. This means that your 18-year-old daughter may serve alcohol at a restaurant or bar but may not consume it. The only other exception to the state law on prohibiting possession of alcohol by a minor in Florida is if it is tasted by a student who is at least 18 years of age as part of a class at an accredited post-secondary educational institution. The student may taste the alcohol only and not drink it.
What Is Possession When It Comes To Alcohol?
The legal definition of possession in this context means actual or constructive possession:
You are in actual possession of alcohol if it is on your person, or within your immediate vicinity and you have control over the alcohol. This means holding it or having it in your pocket or purse.
Although you may not have a can of beer, glass or container of alcohol in your hand or purse, you can still legally possess it. To be in constructive possession, these conditions must be present:
- Knowledge of the alcohol’s presence
- Knowledge that possession is illegal
- The alcohol was close or near enough for them to actually possess it or you had control over it
This means that your young teenager could be arrested if you have an alcoholic drink at a dinner table where your child was sitting next to you and could easily reach it, and your child was aware it was alcohol and that it is unlawful for the child to possess it.
A minor who carries cans of beer from your car could also be charged with underage possession of alcohol under Florida law. However, there is case law whereby temporary possession of alcohol, such as the scenario where a minor carries beer from a car to the house or passes a glass of wine from adult to another, does not establish complete control or dominion over it so that no legal possession occurred.
Penalties For Underage Possession Of Alcohol In Florida
Many people mistakenly believe that a charge of underage drinking “is no big deal.” The penalties for a conviction of underage drinking in Florida are quite severe.
A first offense for violating Fla. Statute § 562.111 is a second-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, the minor faces:
- Up to 60 days in jail
- A fine of no more than $500
- Probation of 6 months
Any subsequent conviction is a first-degree misdemeanor with the following penalties:
- Up to one year in jail
- A fine up to $1000
- Probation for 1 year
Driver’s License Suspension
Further, under Fla. Statute § 322.056, minors convicted of MIP will have their driver’s licenses suspended or withheld by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for 6 months to one year. A second conviction results in a 2-year suspension.
In Florida, a criminal charge like underage drinking can be found on government databases that are free and readily available to the public. Not only can the general public use this system, but many background search companies can also access the database and provide information about underage drinking, public drunkenness, possession of a fake ID, and other summary offenses to prospective employers.
If you are arrested and charged with minor in possession of alcohol, the best way to avoid or minimize criminal penalties is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.