ARS 4-244(9) is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of a minor in possession of alcohol. People commit this offense if they are under the legal drinking age (for example, under 21) and buy, receive, possess, or consume an alcoholic beverage. A violation of this law is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail time.
The language of ARS 4-244(9) states that: “It is unlawful… for a person under the legal drinking age to buy, receive, have in the person’s possession or consume spirituous liquor.”
- an 18-year-old carrying a six pack of beer to a friend’s house.
- two high-school girls consuming vodka drinks at a park.
- a 14-year-old receiving alcohol from a neighbor.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to contest minor in possession of alcohol charges. Some of these include showing that the defendant:
- was of the legal drinking age,
- did not have alcohol, and/or
- did not possess alcohol.
- custody in jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,500.
Note that a judge may award a defendant with probation in lieu of jail time.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1.How does Arizona law define “minor in possession”?
People are guilty of Arizona’s minor in possession law if:
- they buy, receive, possess, or engage in the consumption of alcohol, and
- do so when under the legal drinking age.i
The legal drinking age in Arizona is 21 years of age.ii
The language of ARS 4-244(9) uses the term “spirituous liquor” as opposed to alcohol. The term “spiritous liquor” includes such things as:
- ale, and
The offense of minor in possession is sometimes referred to as “MIP.” If a minor breaks the state’s MIP laws by consuming alcohol, the crime is often referred to as “minor in consumption” or “underage drinking.”
Note that the law does not apply if a person under 21 has a legal purpose to possess alcohol (for example, for religious purposes or medicinal purposes).
2. Are there defenses to ARS 4-244(9) charges?
A person facing an MIP charge can contest it with a legal defense/disclaimer. Three common defenses include defendants showing that they:
- were not under the legal drinking age.
- did not have alcohol.
- were not in possession of alcohol.
2.1 Of the legal drinking age
A person is only guilty under this statute if he/she was under the legal drinking age of 21. This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he/she was at least 21 years old at the time of the criminal offense.
2.2 No alcohol
ARS 4-244(9) only applies to the receipt, possession, or consumption of alcohol or “spirituous liquor,” which has a precise legal definition. A defense, then, is for a defendant to show that the substance he/she had was not alcohol.
2.3 No possession
An accused can try to challenge criminal charges by showing that he/she was not in the “possession” of alcohol. For example, maybe the alcohol belonged to someone else or the defendant was just hanging out while other people possessed it.
3. What are the penalties?
Criminal charges under this statute can result in serious consequences.
The crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor.iv It is punishable by:
- a jail sentence of up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,500.
Keep in mind that judges may suspend a jail sentence and impose probation, instead. If this is done, the probation is often imposed with certain terms and conditions, like the performance of community service or the completion of a diversion program.
If a minor used a fake id or a fake driver’s license to obtain alcohol, then a MIP charge will result in the loss of the ID or license.
4. Are there related crimes?
There are three crimes related to a minor in possession of alcohol. These are:
- public consumption of alcohol – ARS 4-244(20),
- contributing to the delinquency of a minor – ARS 13-3613, and
- driving under the influence (DUI) – ARS 28-1381A1.
4.1 Public consumption of alcohol – ARS 4-244(20)
ARS 4-244(20) is the Arizona statute that makes it a crime for a person to consume spirituous liquor in a public place, thoroughfare, or gathering.
Unlike with ARS 4-244(9), this statute applies to minors and non-minors alike. In other words, a person can violate this law even if he/she is of the legal drinking age.
4.2 Contributing to the delinquency of a minor – ARS 13-3613
Per ARS 13-3613, it is a criminal offense for a person to cause, encourage, or contribute to the delinquency of a child.
“Delinquency” means any act that tends to debase or injure the morals, health, or welfare of a child.
While minor in possession affects those under the age of 21, this statute applies to those under the age of 18.
4.3 DUI – ARS 28-1381A1
Per ARS 28-1381A1, people commit the crime of DUI if they drive or are in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of:
- an intoxicating liquor,
- any drug,
- a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance, or
- any combination of liquor, drugs, or vapor.
Note that if a minor has possession of alcohol and drives under the influence, then that person can be charged with both:
- ARS 4-244(9), minor in possession, and
- ARS 28-1381A1, DUI.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm/law office at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- A.R.S. § 4-244(9).
- See, for example, In re Sabino R., 198 Ariz. 424 (2000).
- ARS 4-101.
- ARS 4-246B.