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What is the legal drinking age in Colorado today?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jan 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

21 years old. People under 21 who possess or drink alcohol face charges for minor in possession (18-13-122 C.R.S.). This crime is abbreviated as MIP in Colorado.

1. What are the penalties?

MIP is prosecuted as an unclassified petty offense. It carries no jail time. But defendants do face fines, community service, and substance abuse classes.

Minor in Possession offense

 Colorado penalties

1st conviction

  • Fines of $100 plus a $25 surcharge; and
  • A drug education class

The case gets automatically sealed once the case ends.

2nd conviction

  • Fines of $100 plus a $25 surcharge;
  • A drug education class;
  • A substance abuse assessment and treatment (at the court's discretion); and
  • Up to 24 hours of public service

The conviction must remain on the defendant's record for one year. At that point, the court will not automatically seal it. Instead, the defendant must petition the court to seal the record.

3rd or subsequent conviction

  • Fines of $100 plus a $25 surcharge;
  • A substance abuse assessment and possibly treatment; and
  • Up to 36 hours of public service

The conviction must remain on the defendant's record for one year. At that point, the court will not automatically seal it. Instead, the defendant must petition the court to seal the record.

The court may dismiss these charges if the defendant completes diversion or a deferred judgment. As long as the minor completes all the court-ordered terms -- such as doing community service and rehab -- the case will get dismissed.

With diversion, the minor never gets criminally prosecuted as long as he/she completes the program. Diversion is a way of side-stepping prosecution from the beginning.

With deferred judgment, the minor does enter a guilty or no contest plea -- but the court holds off on entering a judgment. Then if the minor completes the program, no judgment will be entered. Then the case will be dismissed.

2. What are the defenses?

Five potential arguments to fight MIP charges include: 

  1. The defendant was lawfully on private property. And the defendant's parent or guardian was there and allowed him/her to drink or have the alcohol.
  2. The alcohol served a medical, hygienic, or non-oral ingestion purpose.
  3. The defendant was enrolled in a program for cooking, food service, or restaurant management. And an instructor supervised the defendant tasting the alcohol.
  4. The police officer lacked probable cause to believe the defendant committed MIP.
  5. The First Amendment protected the defendant's possession or consumption for religious purposes.

People under 21 who are with someone suffering from alcohol poisoning may be able to avoid MIP charges if they:

  1. Call 911;
  2. Provide their name;
  3. Was the first person to call 911 about the emergency;
  4. Remain with the victim until help arrived; and
  5. Cooperate with the first responders and police.

3. Can minors serve alcohol?

Adults age 18 and older may serve alcohol if they are supervised by someone at least 21 years old.

4. What is the BAC limit for minors while driving?

People under 21 face underage DUI charges if they drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.02% or higher. For adults 21 and older, the per se limit is 0.08% or higher. (People with a BAC of 0.05% typically face DWAI charges.)

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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