Minor in Possession of Alcohol in Georgia
Most Georgians know that possession of alcohol is illegal for individuals under the age of 21. If a person charged with this offense, which may be referred to as a Minor in Possession or MIP charge, is under the age of 17, his or her case will be heard in a Georgia Juvenile Court.
The statute that governs in a Minor in Possession case is O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23. It prohibits:
- Furnishing alcohol to a person under 21 years old,
- Possessing, purchasing, or attempting to purchase alcohol by a person under 21,
- Misrepresenting one's age in order to purchase alcohol,
- Misrepresenting one's identity to purchase alcohol, and
- Using a fake ID to purchase alcohol.
Important exceptions to the law
Individuals under 21 may possess alcohol for medical purposes pursuant to a prescription authorized to practice medicine in the State of Georgia. Individuals participating in religious ceremonies are also exempt.
The statute also notes that individuals under 21 are not prohibited from dispensing, serving, selling, or handling alcohol as part of employment in a licensed establishment, or from being employed in any establishment in which alcohol is distilled or manufactured. However, individuals must be at least 18 years of age for this exception to apply per O.C.G.A. § 3-3-24.
Further, O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23 does not apply when a person under 21 possesses alcohol that was given them by his or her own parent in that parent's own home, when the parent or guardian is present. This is a very narrow exception, and only applies when a parent gives alcohol to his or her own child. If a juvenile is at a party and is given alcohol by another person's parent, the exception does not apply even if the child's own parent has given permission. This also makes providing alcohol to other people's children a risky business -- and may also open a person up to civil liability, although that is outside the scope of our law practice. See Mowell v. Marks, 277 Ga.App. 524, 627 S.E.2d 141 (2006).
There is one more significant exception to this statute.
A person who seeks medical assistance for another person who is experiencing an alcohol overdose shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for violation of O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23 if the evidence for the arrest or charge results from seeking medical assistance. A person who seeks medical assistance for himself or herself for an alcohol overdose will similarly not be prosecuted. This exception also protects individuals from penalties for a violation of a temporary protective order or restraining order and from sanctions for a violation of conditions of pretrial release, probation, or parole. O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23(j)(2).
Before this exception was written into the law, teenagers who were aware that they were not legally allowed to possess alcohol would decline to seek medical assistance for their friends who were experiencing an overdose, for fear that they themselves would be charged with either possession of the alcohol or with providing alcohol to others. This placed their friends at the risk of grievous bodily harm or even death, and many teenagers have died from preventable alcohol-related overdoses. This is a particular problem on college campuses and in college towns. This exception seeks to mitigate that fear and incentivize teenagers to seek medical assistance when necessary.
This exception does not provide protection from prosecution for other individuals who may have been involved in illegally possessing alcohol. It also does not prevent law enforcement from seizing evidence or contraband or taking a person into custody during the course of an investigation.
Proving the offense
Some Georgia Juvenile Courts play “fast and loose” with the law. However, due process still applies, juveniles still have the right to a Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney, and the State still must prove the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In Georgia Juvenile Courts, judges are the triers of fact – there are no juries. Thus, the State must prove to the judge that a juvenile possessed alcohol beyond a reasonable doubt. The State may provide a variety of factors to prove this.
For example, evidence that the defendant had the odor of alcohol on his person, appeared to be in an intoxicated state and admitted that he had consumed an alcoholic beverage, was found to be sufficient evidence. Hanson v. State, 276 Ga. 470, 569 S.E.2d 513 (2002). Evidence that the defendant smelled of alcohol and appeared “flushed,” and that open cans containing beer were in the car, was sufficient. Firsanov v. State, 270 Ga. 873, 513 S.E.2d 184 (1999). And finally, bloodshot and watery eyes and admission of drinking was found to be sufficient. In the Interest of B.J.G., 234 Ga.App. 285, 506 S.E.2d 449.
Defenses in a Minor in Possession case
In order to secure an adjudication under O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23 (and indeed, under most statutes dealing with possession of any kind of contraband) the State must prove that a juvenile knowingly possessed alcohol. It is easy to envision a scenario in which a juvenile is riding in a car with other individuals, while the driver has a bottle of alcohol under the seat. The State would have to prove that all individuals charged knew the alcohol was there. This would be a case of constructive possession. Possession may be actual or constructive. Actual possession occurs when a substance is found on one's person. Constructive possession occurs when a substance is not located on a person's body, but that person nonetheless has the power and the intention to exercise control over the substance.
Thus, a defense in a case of constructive possession might be for a Georgia MIP Lawyer to prove that the juvenile charged had no knowledge the substance was there, or that he or she had no intention to exercise control over the substance.
Possible Dispositions in a Minor in Possession case
MIP is considered a misdemeanor offense under Georgia law. That said, even a misdemeanor is not a trivial matter. Upon adjudication on a MIP charge, a Georgia Juvenile Court Judge may order:
- Counseling (for the child and/or the parents),
- Probation, which may be supervised or unsupervised,
- That the child obtain a high school diploma or GED,
- Community service,
- Restitution, if applicable,
- Suspension of the child's driver's license, or
- Any combination of the above.
In cases where the child has a history of significant prior court involvement, including at least one felony offense, the judge may also order placement in an institution, camp, or other facility for delinquent children or up to 30 days in a juvenile detention facility.
If the child is adjudicated delinquent and an order of disposition is entered, the child will have a juvenile record. In some cases, however, a record can be avoided with the help of a MIP Lawyer in Georgia. Some judges are amenable to outcomes that do not remain on a child's record. This may be an outcome of pretrial diversion or abeyance. Both of which include a period of supervision and possibly completion of certain conditions, but ultimately result in the charges being dismissed instead of adjudicated. This is always a preferable outcome, but whether it is available to your child depends on many factors, including the facts and circumstances of the case, the child's prior court involvement (or lack thereof), how the child performs in school, and measures taken by the family to address the situation prior to going to court. It also depends on the players involved and their attitudes about such charges.
Why hiring a Georgia Juvenile Defense Attorney is Crucial in a Juvenile Court Minor In Possession Case?
Most high school kids have college and careers on their minds. Even so, many kids slip up and make mistakes. We understand that these mistakes are part of growing up and should not derail your child's life. A juvenile record can stick around for years to come. This is why it is imperative to hire a Georgia Minor in Possession Attorney who understands that no case is “just a misdemeanor.” Every case is important, especially when juveniles are involved. Don't let a minor in possession case get in the way of your child's goals. Call us today.