Picture it: You’re 20 years old, in college. You and your friends are at a party and one of your friends asks you to hold his beer. You oblige, because hey—he’s your friend! Then the police show up and start asking for IDs. The officer approaches you, while you’re still holding your friend’s beer, asks you to produce your ID. The officer discovers you are under 21 and immediately issues you a citation for underage possession of alcohol.
Unfortunately, this happens more often than people realize. Even if the beer isn’t “yours,” even if you are only holding it for someone else, you are still in possession of it. It is important to know that “possession” can take two forms: actual and constructive. Actual possession means you are physically holding the alcoholic beverage in your hand; however, if you are not actually holding the alcoholic beverage, but it is located within your reach or immediate control, this is what is called constructive possession. The law does not differentiate between actual and constructive possession of alcohol by underage individuals for punishment purposes, but it does give broader discretion to law enforcement in allowing them to cite underage individuals for sitting in a vehicle with beer cans stashed underneath their seats.
If you are found to be in possession of an alcoholic beverage before you reach the age of 21, it is a misdemeanor offense, which can land you in jail, or on probation, and require you to pay a fine. You could also face a suspension of your driver’s license. And, if you are unlucky enough to be cited more than once, then penalties increase. If that isn’t bad enough, the fact that underage possession of alcohol is a misdemeanor means that you could have a criminal record if the court finds that you are guilty of the offense. Wow!
There are some exceptions to the rule, but they are very limited in scope. For example, if you are under 21 years of age, and you work in a restaurant that serves alcohol, you will not be penalized for serving alcohol to a patron. However, if you are serving alcohol outside the scope of your employment (i.e. at a college party), the exception does not apply! So be smart about your choices: if you’re underage, don’t hold a drink for someone, and steer clear of situations where you may be at risk of even constructively possessing alcohol. But if you find yourself facing charges for underage possession of alcohol, it may be in your interest to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you through the process.