Minor Possession of Alcohol in Nevada Law (NRS 202.020)
(Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys)

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Nevada forbids people under age 21 to drink, possess, or buy alcohol.

Although Nevada is home to the self-proclaimed "sin city" of Las Vegas, state laws regarding underage drinking are very strict. The possession, consumption, or purchase of alcohol by a person under 21 is forbidden with very few exceptions. In this article our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss the definition, defenses, and penalties for the Nevada crime of underage alcohol use.

Definition

It is a crime in Nevada for anyone under twenty-one (21) years old to possess, purchase, or drink an alcoholic beverage. Defendants under eighteen (18) are typically prosecuted in juvenile court in Nevada. Defendants 18 and older but under 21 are prosecuted in criminal court. 

Defenses

Typical defenses to violations of NRS 202.020 are the following:

  • The alcohol did not belong to the defendant.
  • The police found the alcohol through an illegal search.
  • The defendant possessed the alcohol as part of his/her legal employment.
Penalties

Drinking, purchasing, or possessing alcohol while under 21 is a misdemeanor in Nevada. The penalty carries:

  • up to 6 months in jail, and/or
  • up to $1,000 in fines

Juveniles under 18 who drink, buy, or possess alcohol face additional penalties:

  • a medical evaluation of whether the child is an addict, and
  • rehab (if the child is deemed an addict), and
  • a 90-day to 2-year driver's license suspension

Continue reading for more detailed information on the Nevada crime of underage alcohol possession, consumption, or purchase. 

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Underage possession of alcohol is a misdemeanor in Nevada.

Legal Definition of "Minor in Possession of Alcohol" in Nevada

Nevada law makes it a crime for people under 21 to do either of the following:

  • purchase any alcoholic beverage in any saloon, resort or premises where spirituous, malt or fermented liquors or wines are sold; or
  • consume any alcoholic beverage in any saloon, resort or premises where spirituous, malt or fermented liquors or wines are sold; or
  • possess any alcoholic beverage in public (on a street or highway, in any place open to the public, or in any private business that is open to the public)

In short, people under 21 may not buy, drink, or possess booze in Nevada. There are five common sense exceptions involving religion, adult supervision, doctor's orders, non-public spaces, and employment. Specifically, people under 21 may possess alcohol in the following scenarios:

  1. possession of alcohol for an established religious purpose, such as during Sunday mass at church or during the Passover seder; or
  2. possession of alcohol in the presence of the person's parent, spouse or legal guardian who is 21 years of age or older; or
  3. possession of alcohol  in accordance with a prescription issued by a person statutorily authorized to issue prescriptions, such as a doctor; or
  4. possession of alcohol in private clubs or private establishments; or
  5. the selling, handling, serving or transporting of alcoholic beverages in the course of the person's lawful employment by a licensed manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer of alcoholic beverages.

Therefore, the purpose and setting of an underage person's alcohol possession determine whether the behavior is illegal.1 Pahrump criminal defense attorney Michael Becker illustrates this concept with an example: 

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Underage possession of alcohol is a crime in Nevada even if the person does not drink any.

Example: Sam is an eighteen-year-old UNLV college student who goes home to spend New Year's Eve with his parents. At midnight they toast in the new year with a glass of champagne. Later that night, Sam goes out with his friends to Sunset Park and celebrate together by drinking beer. In this case, Sam did nothing illegal by drinking the champagne because his of-age parents were supervising and they were in their own private residence. But Sam could be arrested and booked at Clark County Detention Center for underage drinking in Sunset Park because it is a public place. 

In the above example, it does not matter if Sam never gets inebriated. Nor does it matter if Sam was not the one who brought the alcohol to Sunset Park. NRS 202.020 prohibits both personal possession of alcohol as well as joint possession of alcohol.  

Criminal Court versus Juvenile Court:

People under age 18 who are accused of underage alcohol possession in Nevada are typically prosecuted in juvenile court. Meanwhile, people 18 and older charged with underage alcohol possession are prosecuted in criminal court. Juveniles found guilty of underage alcohol possession in juvenile court are adjudged "delinquent," while adults found guilty of underage alcohol possession in criminal court get "convicted." 

As described below in the "penalties" section, delinquent adjudications of underage drinking actually carry harsher penalties than criminal convictions in Nevada. But both juveniles and adults may be eligible to have their record sealed two-to-three years after the case is closed. 

Underage DUI in Nevada:

Underage drunk driving is a separate offense from minor possession of alcohol in Nevada. It is considered a DUI in Nevada for an under-21 driver to drive with a Nevada Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .02 or above even if he/she is not intoxicated. Depending on the situation, under-21 defendants can be charged with both DUI and minor alcohol possession.  Learn more about the Nevada crime of underage DUI.

Related underage drinking offenses in Nevada:
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A juvenile pretending to be 21 in order to get alcohol is a crime in Nevada.

It is a crime in Nevada for a person under 21 to falsely represent him/herself as being 21 years old in order to obtain alcohol.2 Having a fake ID is prohibited as well under Nevada fake ID laws.3 It is also illegal in Nevada for a person under 21 to loiter in a place where alcohol is served.4 People can get convicted of these crimes no matter whether the person gets his/her hands on any alcohol. 

Knowingly selling or furnishing alcohol to people under age 21 in Nevada is a crime as well. This law is meant to deter bartenders from taking business from minors. This law does not apply to the underage person's parents, guardians or physicians.5 

Being drunk in public is not a crime in Nevada. However, public inebriation does make people vulnerable to other offenses such as the Nevada crime of disorderly conduct or the Nevada crime of trespass. Learn more in our articles on Nevada public intoxication laws and Nevada open container laws.

Defenses to "Minor in Possession of Alcohol" in Nevada

There are several different ways to fight Nevada charges of an underage person buying, drinking, or possessing alcohol. Common defense strategies include:

  • The alcohol did not belong to the defendant. The police may have been mistaken about whom the alcohol belonged to. Perhaps it belonged to someone else in the vicinity of the defendant. Perhaps someone else planted it near the defendant to get him/her in trouble. As long as the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had a hand in buying, possessing or drinking alcohol while being underage, charges should not stand. 
  • The police found the alcohol through an illegal search. Law enforcement may conduct searches and seizures within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment. If the police overstep their bounds such as by failing to get a warrant when a warrant is necessary, it may be possible to get all the evidence found from that illegal search thrown out. So if a cop illegally searched a 20-year old's car in Nevada and found alcohol, the defense attorney can file a Nevada motion to suppress asking the judge to disregard the alcohol as evidence. If the judge agrees, that could effectively leave the prosecution with an unwinnable case. 
  • Possessing alcohol was part of the defendant's job.  It is not a NRS 202.020 violation if the defendant was acting in the normal course of his/her legal employment. Pahrump criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse gives an example: 
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Underage possession of alcohol under adult supervision of a parent or legal guardian is not a crime in Nevada.

Example: Rudy is eighteen years old and works as a waiter at Cheesecake Factory in Las Vegas. His boss asks him to pick up an extra crate of wine from the Henderson location and to drive it to the Las Vegas one. A cop from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sees Rudy carrying the crate and then books him at the Henderson Detention Center for being a minor in possession of alcohol. If the defense attorney can show that Rudy was just acting in the lawful course of his employment, the charges should be dropped. 

Note it is not a defense to "minor alcohol possession" charges in Nevada if the defendant is from a country which allows underage drinking. 

Penalties for "Minor in Possession of Alcohol" in Nevada

It is a misdemeanor in Nevada for a person under 21 to drink, buy, or possess alcohol. The punishment includes:

  • a jail sentence of up to 6 months, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000

Meanwhile, juveniles under 18 accused of violating NRS 202.020 are typically prosecuted in juvenile court instead of criminal court. In juvenile court, defendants found guilty of committing an offense are adjudged "delinquent" instead of being "convicted." The juvenile penalties for possessing, drinking, or buying alcohol include:

  • up to 6 months in juvenile detention and/or a fine of up to $1,000; and
  • an alcohol evaluation to determine whether the juvenile is addicted; and
  • a rehab program (if the evaluation finds that the juvenile is an addict); and
  • a driver's license suspension of 9 months to 2 years. 
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Juveniles adjudged delinquent of alcohol possession will have their driver license suspended in Nevada.

Note that judges often order community service or work crews in lieu of incarceration. Also note that if the juvenile defendant does not yet have a driver license when he/she is adjudged delinquent for possessing alcohol, then the date that he/she would be otherwise eligible to get a license will be delayed for the suspension period. In some cases, people with a suspended license may be able to get a restricted license in Nevada to go to and from work or school.6 

Sealing records for "Underage Alcohol Possession" in Nevada:

Defendants 18 years old or older who have been convicted of minor alcohol possession must wait at least two (2) years before petitioning the court to seal his/her criminal record.  Learn more about sealing criminal records in Nevada.

Under-18 defendants who were adjudged delinquent of minor drinking in Nevada will automatically have their juvenile record sealed upon turning 21. Juvenile defendants may be able to get their records sealed earlier if all the following are true: 

  • Three (3) years have passed since the defendant was adjudged delinquent of minor alcohol possession; and
  • He/she has not since been convicted of any felonies in Nevada or misdemeanors involving moral turpitude; and
  • The defendant has been rehabilitated

Learn more about the procedures for sealing juvenile records in Nevada.

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Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673).

Arrested for juvenile alcohol possession in Nevada? Call our attorneys...

If you or your child has been charged with "minor alcohol possession" in Nevada, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys want to help. Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a FREE consultation. We may be able to get the charge reduced to a lesser offense or dismissed so your record stays clean. 

For more information on California minor alcohol possession laws, see our article on California minor alcohol possession laws. 

Legal References:

1 NRS 202.020  Purchase, consumption or possession of alcoholic beverage by minor.

      1.  Any 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.

      2.  Any person under 21 years of age who, for any reason, possesses any alcoholic beverage in public is guilty of a misdemeanor.

      3.  This section does not preclude a local governmental entity from enacting by ordinance an additional or broader restriction.

      4.  For the purposes of this section, possession “in public” includes possession:

      (a) On any street or highway;

      (b) In any place open to the public; and

      (c) In any private business establishment which is in effect open to the public.

      5.  The term does not include:

      (a) Possession for an established religious purpose;

      (b) Possession in the presence of the person's parent, spouse or legal guardian who is 21 years of age or older;

      (c) Possession in accordance with a prescription issued by a person statutorily authorized to issue prescriptions;

      (d) Possession in private clubs or private establishments; or

      (e) 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.

2 NRS 202.040  False representation by minor to obtain intoxicating liquor.  Every minor who shall falsely represent himself or herself to be 21 years of age in order to obtain any intoxicating liquor shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

3 NRS 205.460  Preparation, transfer or use of false identification regarding person under 21 years of age; penalties; demand of proof of age as defense to certain proceedings.

      1.  Every person who counterfeits, forges, alters, erases or obliterates, or who attempts to counterfeit, forge, alter, erase or obliterate any card, writing, paper or document, or any photocopy print, photostat, or other replica of any card, writing, paper or document which is designed for the purpose of personal identification and which bears the age of the holder or purported holder thereof, or which, although not designed for the purpose of personal identification, is commonly used, or capable of being used for the purpose of personal identification and bears the age of the holder or purported holder thereof, with the intention that such card, writing, paper or document, or photocopy print, photostat or other replica thereof, be used by a person under the age of 21 years to establish falsely or misrepresent his or her actual age for the purpose of purchasing alcoholic liquor or being served alcoholic liquor in a place where it is served for consumption on the premises, or entering gambling establishments, or engaging in gambling in gambling establishments, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. For the purposes of this subsection, the cards, writings, papers or documents and the photocopy prints or other replicas thereof which, although not designed for the purpose of personal identification, are commonly used, or capable of being used, for the purpose of personal identification, include, but are not limited to, an operator's license, chauffeur's license, fishing or hunting license, selective service card, organizational membership card, certificate of discharge from the Armed Forces, or certificate or other record of birth.

      2.  Every person who sells, lends, gives away or offers, or attempts to sell, lend, give away or offer, any counterfeited, forged, altered, erased or obliterated card, writing, paper or document, or photocopy print, photostat or other replica thereof, of the kind mentioned in subsection 1, to a person under the age of 21 years, shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

      3.  Every person under the age of 21 years who uses or attempts to use or proffers any counterfeited, forged, erased or obliterated card, writing, paper, document, or any photocopy print, photostat or other replica thereof, of the kind mentioned in subsection 1, for the purpose and with the intention of purchasing alcoholic liquor or being served alcoholic liquor in a place where it is served for consumption on the premises, or entering gambling establishments, or engaging in gambling in gambling establishments, or who actually purchases alcoholic liquor or is actually served alcoholic liquor in a place where it is served for consumption on the premises, or actually enters a gambling establishment or actually gambles therein, when the purchase, service, entering or gambling is induced or permitted by the presentation of any such card, writing, paper or document, or any photocopy print, photostat or other replica thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

      4.  In any criminal prosecution or proceeding for the suspension or revocation of any license based upon the violation of any law making it unlawful to sell, serve or furnish a person under the age of 21 years alcoholic liquor or upon violation of any law making it unlawful to allow a person under the age of 21 years to enter a gambling establishment or engage in gambling in a gambling establishment, proof that the defendant licensee, or his or her agent or employee, demanded and was shown, immediately before furnishing any alcoholic liquor to a person under the age of 21 years or allowing a person under the age of 21 years to enter a gambling establishment or engage in gambling in a gambling establishment, bona fide documentary evidence of the majority and identity of the person issued by a federal, state, county or municipal government, or subdivision or agency thereof, including, but not limited to, an operator's license for a motor vehicle, a registration certificate issued under the Federal Selective Service Act, or an identification card issued to a member of the Armed Forces, is a defense to the prosecution or proceeding for the suspension or revocation of any license.

4 NRS 202.030  Minor loitering in place where alcoholic beverages sold.  Any person under 21 years of age who shall loiter or remain on the premises of any saloon where spirituous, malt or fermented liquors or wines are sold shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500. Nothing in this section shall apply to:

      1.  Establishments wherein spirituous, malt or fermented liquors or wines are served only in conjunction with regular meals and where dining tables or booths are provided separate from the bar; or

      2.  Any grocery store or drugstore where spirituous, malt or fermented liquors or wines are not sold by the drink for consumption on the premises. 

5 NRS 202.055  Sale or furnishing of alcoholic beverage to minor; aiding minor to purchase or procure alcoholic beverage; policy to prevent minor from obtaining alcoholic beverage through use of Internet.

      1.  Every person who knowingly:

      (a) Sells, gives or otherwise furnishes an alcoholic beverage to any person under 21 years of age;

      (b) Leaves or deposits any alcoholic beverage in any place with the intent that it will be procured by any person under 21 years of age; or

      (c) Furnishes, gives, or causes to be given any money or thing of value to any person under 21 years of age with the knowledge that the money or thing of value is to be used by the person under 21 years of age to purchase or procure any alcoholic beverage,

--> is guilty of a misdemeanor.

      2.  Paragraph (a) of subsection 1 does not apply to a parent, guardian or physician of the person under 21 years of age.

      3.  Every person who sells, gives or otherwise furnishes alcoholic beverages through the use of the Internet shall adopt a policy to prevent a person under 21 years of age from obtaining an alcoholic beverage from the person through the use of the Internet. The policy must include, without limitation, a method for ensuring that the person who delivers the alcoholic beverages obtains the signature of a person who is over the age of 21 years when delivering the beverages and that the packaging or wrapping of the alcoholic beverages when they are shipped is clearly marked with words that describe the alcoholic beverages. A person who fails to adopt a policy pursuant to this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500.

6 NRS 62E.620  Evaluation of child who committed certain acts involving alcohol or controlled substance; program of treatment; treatment facility not liable for acts of child; confidentiality of information; driving under influence included in driver's record of child.

      1.  The juvenile court shall order a delinquent child to undergo an evaluation to determine whether the child is an abuser of alcohol or other drugs if the child committed:

      (a) An unlawful act in violation of NRS 484C.110, 484C.120, 484C.130 or 484C.430;

      (b) The unlawful act of using, possessing, selling or distributing a controlled substance; or

      (c) The unlawful act of purchasing, consuming or possessing an alcoholic beverage in violation of NRS 202.020.

      2.  Except as otherwise provided in subsection 3, an evaluation of the child must be conducted by:

      (a) A clinical alcohol and drug abuse counselor who is licensed, an alcohol and drug abuse counselor who is licensed or certified, or an alcohol and drug abuse counselor intern or a clinical alcohol and drug abuse counselor intern who is certified, pursuant to chapter 641C of NRS, to make that classification; or

      (b) A physician who is certified to make that classification by the Board of Medical Examiners.

      3.  If the child resides in this State but the nearest location at which an evaluation may be conducted is in another state, the court may allow the evaluation to be conducted in the other state if the person conducting the evaluation:

      (a) Possesses qualifications that are substantially similar to the qualifications described in subsection 2;

      (b) Holds an appropriate license, certificate or credential issued by a regulatory agency in the other state; and

      (c) Is in good standing with the regulatory agency in the other state.

      4.  The evaluation of the child may be conducted at an evaluation center.

      5.  The person who conducts the evaluation of the child shall report to the juvenile court the results of the evaluation and make a recommendation to the juvenile court concerning the length and type of treatment required for the child.

      6.  The juvenile court shall:

      (a) Order the child to undergo a program of treatment as recommended by the person who conducts the evaluation of the child.

      (b) Require the treatment facility to submit monthly reports on the treatment of the child pursuant to this section.

      (c) Order the child or the parent or guardian of the child, or both, to the extent of their financial ability, to pay any charges relating to the evaluation and treatment of the child pursuant to this section. If the child or the parent or guardian of the child, or both, do not have the financial resources to pay all those charges:

             (1) The juvenile court shall, to the extent possible, arrange for the child to receive treatment from a treatment facility which receives a sufficient amount of federal or state money to offset the remainder of the costs; and

             (2) The juvenile court may order the child, in lieu of paying the charges relating to the child's evaluation and treatment, to perform community service.

      7.  After a treatment facility has certified a child's successful completion of a program of treatment ordered pursuant to this section, the treatment facility is not liable for any damages to person or property caused by a child who:

      (a) Drives, operates or is in actual physical control of a vehicle or a vessel under power or sail while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance; or

      (b) Engages in any other conduct prohibited by NRS 484C.110, 484C.120, 484C.130, 484C.430, subsection 2 of NRS 488.400, NRS 488.410, 488.420 or 488.425 or a law of any other jurisdiction that prohibits the same or similar conduct.

      8.  The provisions of this section do not prohibit the juvenile court from:

      (a) Requiring an evaluation to be conducted by a person who is employed by a private company if the company meets the standards of the Division of Public and Behavioral Health of the Department of Health and Human Services. The evaluation may be conducted at an evaluation center.

      (b) Ordering the child to attend a program of treatment which is administered by a private company.

      9.  Except as otherwise provided in section 6 of chapter 435, Statutes of Nevada 2007, all information relating to the evaluation or treatment of a child pursuant to this section is confidential and, except as otherwise authorized by the provisions of this title or the juvenile court, must not be disclosed to any person other than:

      (a) The juvenile court;

      (b) The child;

      (c) The attorney for the child, if any;

      (d) The parents or guardian of the child;

      (e) The district attorney; and

      (f) Any other person for whom the communication of that information is necessary to effectuate the evaluation or treatment of the child.

      10.  A record of any finding that a child has violated the provisions of NRS 484C.110, 484C.120, 484C.130 or 484C.430 must be included in the driver's record of that child for 7 years after the date of the offense.

NRS 62E.630  Certain acts involving alcohol or controlled substance: Suspension or delay in issuance of driver's license.

      1.  Except as otherwise provided in this section, if a child is adjudicated delinquent for the unlawful act of using, possessing, selling or distributing a controlled substance, or purchasing, consuming or possessing an alcoholic beverage in violation of NRS 202.020, the juvenile court shall:

      (a) If the child possesses a driver's license, issue an order suspending the driver's license of the child for at least 90 days but not more than 2 years; or

      (b) If the child does not possess a driver's license and the child is or will be eligible to receive a driver's license within the 2 years immediately following the date of the order, issue an order prohibiting the child from receiving a driver's license for a period specified by the juvenile court which must be at least 90 days but not more than 2 years:

             (1) Immediately following the date of the order, if the child is eligible to receive a driver's license; or

             (2) After the date the child will be eligible to receive a driver's license, if the child is not eligible to receive a driver's license on the date of the order.

      2.  If the child is already the subject of a court order suspending or delaying the issuance of the driver's license of the child, the juvenile court shall order the additional suspension or delay, as appropriate, to apply consecutively with the previous order.

      3.  If the juvenile court finds that a suspension or delay in the issuance of the driver's license of a child pursuant to this section would cause or is causing a severe or undue hardship to the child or his or her immediate family and that the child is otherwise eligible to receive a driver's license, the juvenile court may order the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a restricted driver's license to the child pursuant to NRS 483.490.

      4.  If the juvenile court issues an order requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a restricted driver's license to a child pursuant to subsection 3, not later than 5 days after issuing the order, the juvenile court shall forward to the Department of Motor Vehicles a copy of the order.

NRS 62E.640  Driving under influence: Revocation of driver's license.

      1.  If a child is adjudicated delinquent for an unlawful act in violation of NRS 484C.110, 484C.120, 484C.130 or 484C.430, the juvenile court shall, if the child possesses a driver's license:

      (a) Issue an order revoking the driver's license of the child for 90 days and requiring the child to surrender the driver's license of the child to the juvenile court; and

      (b) Not later than 5 days after issuing the order, forward to the Department of Motor Vehicles a copy of the order and the driver's license of the child.

      2.  The Department of Motor Vehicles shall order the child to submit to the tests and other requirements which are adopted by regulation pursuant to subsection 1 of NRS 483.495 as a condition of reinstatement of the driver's license of the child.

      3.  If the child is adjudicated delinquent for a subsequent unlawful act in violation of NRS 484C.110, 484C.120, 484C.130 or 484C.430, the juvenile court shall order an additional period of revocation to apply consecutively with the previous order.

      4.  The juvenile court may authorize the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a restricted driver's license pursuant to NRS 483.490 to a child whose driver's license is revoked pursuant to this section.

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