Introduction to Alcohol Offenses in Arizona

Although criminal defense of anything related to alcohol is usually centered on DUI law, there are other laws related to alcohol consumption.  This article will discuss the Arizona standards on Minor in Possession and Consumption law, open container law, and public intoxication law, along with possible defenses for each.

Minor in Possession (MIP):

Arizona, like most other states, has instated fairly severe penalties for the under-aged consumption of alcohol.

Class 1 misdemeanor-

If a person under the age of 21 uses a fake over-21 ID to obtain alcohol from a licensed business, that is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor.  A Class 1 misdemeanor is the most severe form of misdemeanor, and carries with it a possible punishment of up to six months in county jail and a  possible fine of up to 2500 dollars.

Class 3 misdemeanor-

If a person under the age of 21 asks somebody else who is over the age of 21 to purchase alcohol for them it is considered a Class 3 misdemeanor.  This carries with it a possible punishment of 30 days in county jail and a possible fine of up to 500 dollars.

Minor in Consumption-

Minor in Consumption is one of the most common cases in Arizona juvenile courts, since drinking alcohol is so common for high school students.  If you are under eighteen and caught with alcohol in your system, your case will be heard in juvenile court, and will likely be treated more leniently than if you are eighteen, nineteen, or twenty.

minor in consumption as one of the alcohol offenses in arizonaHowever, under Arizona law, you will likely not be thrown in jail for a Minor in Consumption, even if you are not tried in juvenile court.  In fact, it is only in very specific and severe circumstances that the punishments for a Minor in Consumption in Alcohol goes beyond:

  • a year of probation
  • community service
  • alcohol education

Additionally, in the case of either a Minor in Possession conviction or a Minor in Consumption conviction, your license can be suspended for up to 180 days.  This is considered an extreme circumstance, and would generally come into effect when it is proven that the minor in question was planning on drinking later while still intoxicated.

It must also be noted that there are exceptions to the Minor in Possession laws.  Under ARS 4-226, “Minors may consume alcohol for medicinal purposes as long as it does not threaten the health or safety of those around them.  It is difficult to see where this law would be relevant; perhaps if someone consumed a toxin, consuming large amounts of alcohol could induce vomiting.  Whatever the reason, this is an exception which an attorney may be able to use in your situation.

Also, pursuant to the first amendment of the United States, consumption of alcohol for religious purposes can also be used as an exception.  Because many monotheistic religions consume alcohol as part of their practices, this could legitimately be used if the minor in question was part of a religious ceremony.  For more information on alcohol DUI and alcohol offenses in Arizona see the article from AZ Central on What You need to Know About AZ DUIs.

Possible Defenses:

There are a few established defenses for Minor in Possession or Minor in Consumption charges.  One built-in loophole allows for parents to provide alcohol to their under-aged children in their own home based on their own discretion.  Thus, a teen is caught with alcohol in their system which was previously imbibed in their family home, this exception could possibly be used as a defense.  However, this loophole does not carry over to non-family members.  In a prom night scenario, where parents allow a group of highschoolers their own home as a party venue, the same rules do not apply.  When two or more non-family minors are drinking in a home, underage drinking laws come fully into effect, and parents are punished severely.  The Arizona law states that the legal adult is subject to penalty if:

-Such person knowingly allows a gathering on such unlicensed premises of two or more persons who are under the legal drinking age and who are neither: (a) Members of the immediate family of such person. (b) Permanently residing with such person.

-Such person knows or should know that one or more of the persons under the legal drinking age is in possession of or consuming spirituous liquor on the unlicensed premises.

defenses to alcohol offenses in arizonaIn such cases, the prosecution is reliant on proving the adult was in fact the legal guardian of the home, since a successful charge must prove the adult had the ability to banish the teens from the home.  As such, a successful defense is predicated on proving the opposite.  This could include anything from outright claiming not to be the legal guardian to claiming the circumstances surrounding the party did not allow the opportunity to remove them.  For instance, maybe they were drinking in the basement with loud music, and you were bedridden with the flu that night. It is extremely important to hire a capable defense attorney if accused of this charge, as it carries with it a Class 1 misdemeanor charge and a possible six months in prison- a number which can be compounded based on the number of minors in the home.

In more traditional minor in consumption or minor in possession charges, the defense is centered more clearly around police malpractice.  Perhaps a police officer raided a party without a search warrant or probable cause.  Perhaps the defendant was acting entirely sober and compliant to the officer’s wishes, and yet was still breathalyzed.  In many cases, especially for first time offenders, a successful defense could be based on the defendant “just having fun,” and proving that this will not be a problem in the future.  This may be especially true for undergraduate college students, who are both the largest demographic faced with Minor in Possession or Minor in Consumption charges and the demographic with the most to lose.  Most if not all colleges around the country, certainly those in Arizona, impose extremely strict disciplinary standards for those who are caught engaging in underaged drinking.  It is something which is simultaneously both culturally accepted as inevitable and also egregiously punished.  A defense playing on a possible suspension or expulsion from college, a potentially life ruining punishment, adds a level of sympathy which may invite more lenient treatment from a judge.

Open Container Law:

alcohol offenses in arizona and open container lawsArizona is one of forty three states that have open container laws, and they are in the upper range of strictness.  In Arizona, open container law stipulates that neither the drivers nor the passengers can drink from an open container containing spirituous liquid while the vehicle is in operation.  Also, there cannot be any open container, even if it is empty, that once contained spirituous liquid in the vehicle or glove compartment.  Some states possess more lenient open container laws, where a passenger may possess an open container as long as they are not consuming the beverage while the vehicle is in operation.  Because open container laws in Arizona are strict, usually resulting in a Class 2 misdemeanor and possible jail time, it is safest to never carry an opened container in a vehicle, regardless of the circumstances.  It must be noted, however, that the term vehicle defined by the law only pertains to a personal car, and does not include taxis, limousines, or buses.

Virtually the same rules apply outside of a vehicle, and also usually results in a Class 2 misdemeanor.  However, the exceptions are more numerous, allowing for open containers at places like festivals where they sell alcohol or the allowance of “drinking beer from a broken container” in recreation areas with permission.

Possible Defenses:

For a vehicle open container charge, the first thing an officer will do is check if you are driving under the influence.  If you are tested above the legal limit of 0.08 blood alcohol content for an adult, the punishments for an open container will seem minimal compared to a DUI charge.  For a minor, because Arizona is a no tolerance state, testing at any level of blood alcohol content could similarly result in a DUI, rendering the open container charge insignificant.  Assuming the driver is not inebriated, there are several considerations when it comes to open container charges.  For one, who is the officer citing?  If the container is clearly in the passenger’s possession, the officer has the option of solely citing the passenger, or of citing both the driver for their knowledge of the container as well as the passenger’s possession.  If you are the driver, one obvious defense would be ignorance of your passenger’s possession.  If you did not know about the open container, you could not have prevented it from being in the vehicle.  Another consideration is asking if the container was truly open.  An open container requires that the seal be fully broken and/or contents from the container were removed.  If a seal was only partially opened, this can be used as a defense to argue that it was not in fact an open container

Public Intoxication:

In the State of Arizona, there are no laws on the books which punish public intoxication.  In fact, state law prohibits any specific county or municipality from instating such rules.  Rather than punish, the state has an intake system for those who seem incapacitated or at risk of harm to others or themselves.  This “protective custody” is not considered a formal arrest, and is not treated as such legally.

public intoxication as one of the alcohol offenses in arizonaAlthough this article highlights the prominent alcohol related charges outside of DUI charges and their respective punishments, it must be stated that the potential punishments for these misdemeanor charges- most notably the possible jail time- is a theoretical gate which is rarely ever entered.  Possible jail time as a punishment is the dissuading force which keeps people from unabashedly breaking open container rules, and keeps highschool and college teens from doing the same with under-aged drinking laws, but is rarely ever reached.  For the most part, non-DUI alcohol charges are punished with a fine and possible counseling and community service.  By and large, the law functions to prevent present and future damage from occurring, and non-DUI alcohol charges simply do not represent a large threat to society.  However, if you ever consider getting behind the wheel while inebriated, don’t.  DUI charges, especially for repeat offenders, invite a heavily increased possibility of jail time along with a slew of other damaging punishments, including long-term license revocation.  Regardless of the charge raised against you regarding alcohol misconduct, contact an experienced defense attorney immediately.

Interested in learning more about alcohol misconduct law in the state of Arizona?  We’d love to hear from you!  Comment below or reach out to us on our social media channels.  If you need criminal defense assistance on alcohol misconduct in the state of Arizona , contact an experienced Phoenix defense attorney today.