What is Minor in Possession in Arizona?

A.R.S. § 4-244(9) makes it illegal in Arizona for a person under 21 to possess or consume alcohol. This is known as a “minor in possession” charge. This is classified as a class 1 misdemeanor under ARS 4-246(B). This crime is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $2500 as a maximum punishment.

A.R.S. § 4-244(9) Defined

Under ARS 4-244(9) it is unlawful

  • For a person “to sell, furnish, dispose of or give, or cause to be sold, furnished, disposed of or given, to a person under the legal drinking age [spirituous liquor];
  • For a person “under the legal drinking age to buy, receive, have in the person’s possession or consume spirituous liquor.”

The legal drinking age in Arizona is 21. Therefore, it is illegal to either possess alcohol if you are under 21, or to give or sell alcohol to a person who is under the legal drinking age.

The law uses the phrase “spirituous liquor” rather than alcohol. Under ARS 4-101, “spirituous liquor” includes things such as:

  • Alcohol,
  • Brandy,
  • Whiskey,
  • Rum,
  • Tequila,
  • Mescal,
  • Wine,
  • Gin, and
  • Beer

Note: The term “spirituous liquor” also includes “beverages containing more than one-half of one person of alcohol by volume.” (ABV greater than 0.5%). As a comparison, beer typically contains between 4-7% ABV, with the average being 5%. White Claw contains 5% ABV. So a beverage with 0.5% ABV is very light, but can still qualify as a “spirituous liquor” according to the minor in consumption law.

Penalties for Minor in Possession

Minor in possession is punished a class 1 misdemeanor. There are two main types of crimes in Arizona: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are the lesser of the two crimes, but a conviction for a misdemeanor will still appear on a person’s criminal record. Class 1 misdemeanors are the most seriously punished of misdemeanor crimes. The following is the maximum penalties for this class of crime:

Legal penalties for minor in possession:

  • Up to 6 months’ jail
  • Up to $2500 in fines
  • Up to 3 years’ probation
  • Court-ordered alcohol counseling & classes.

Note: If a person is under the age of 18 and has been convicted of minor in possession, the court may suspend the person’s driving privileges for up to 180 days.

In addition to the legal penalties a court of law can impose for minor in possession, there are also collateral consequences to minor in possession. These types of punishments are not required by law, but can be imposed on an individual who has this criminal conviction and include:

  • Loss of financial aid;
  • Loss of scholarships;
  • Employment consequences;
  • Negative impact on extracurricular activities;
  • Negative impact on campus housing eligibility;
  • Violation of college administrative rules regarding alcohol consumption;
  • Having to report a criminal conviction on apartment applications.

Defense to Minor in Possession

  • Statutory exceptions: By law, there are certain exceptions when it is legal for a person under legal drinking age to possess alcohol: when the minor has alcohol for medicinal purposes (ARS 4-226(3)(a)); for religious purposes such as sacramental wine (ARS 4-226(4) & ARS 4-249).
  • No possession: It can also be argued that the underage defendant did not actually possess the alcohol but was rather in the mere presence of alcohol. Under Arizona’s criminal law, mere presence is not by itself enough to show that a person possessed alcohol. The alcohol must either be on the individual’s person (i.e., they are holding in in their hand) or it must be in the person’s “dominion or control” (i.e., if the person has the alcohol on a table in front of them after drinking it).

Example: An underage defendant is at a party where alcohol is present. The police break up the party and the defendant is arrested for minor in possession. Unless the police have evidence that the defendant was one of the individuals who was actually drinking, that defendant’s mere presence at the party is not enough to show that he or she possessed alcohol.