What Happens if You Get Caught Drinking Under Age 21 in California?

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Many teenagers and young adults associate drinking alcohol with fun. Drinking helps you relax and causes people to lose their inhibitions.

Typically, timid or unadventurous people do funny or even stupid things that can get big laughs at a party or any fun social setting.

Some might say this behavior is just part of growing up. But there is a dark side to drinking that underage people often do not see. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), underage drinking can lead to academic, social, and physical problems.

The CDC also says that underage drinking often leads to adult alcohol abuse and can lead to abusing drugs as well. Additionally, underage drinking can lead to serious legal problems. 

California enacted a statute designed to combat the dangers of underage drinking, making possessing alcohol while under 21 a misdemeanor.

In other words, getting charged as a minor in possession of alcohol in California is a criminal offense—and you should not take this offense lightly.

The charge of being a minor in possession of alcohol in California carries serious consequences and can jeopardize a youngster’s future. 

If you or your child are in legal trouble because of a minor in possession of alcohol charge, contact the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, right away.

Kerry and his team of dedicated San Diego criminal defense lawyers have over four decades of experience handling cases just like yours.

What Happens If You Get Caught Drinking Under Age 21?

Getting caught with alcohol as a minor is no laughing matter. You can be sure that the police, prosecutor, and judge will take this matter very seriously.

They have seen the carnage left on the roads from underage drinking and driving, alcohol overdoses, and many other damages associated with underage drinking.

Therefore, they may use your case as an example for others. Fortunately, the California minor in possession of alcohol law eliminates the risk of jail time.

Notwithstanding, the punishment for a minor in possession of alcohol conviction can be harsh enough to negatively impact your life.

First, this can be a criminal conviction on your record—especially if you are over the age of 18.

Also, the court can order a $250 fine for the first offense and order the offender to perform between 24 and 32 hours of community service.

The offender may complete the community service option only when not in school or working. 

The court can increase the fine to $500 and order between 36 and 48 hours of community service for a second and subsequent offense.

The community service option is no joke.

The statute specifies that the legislature prefers that the offender perform community service at an alcohol or drug rehabilitation program or the county coroner’s office. 

Are There Any Defenses to a Minor in Possession of Alcohol Charge?

San Diego criminal defense lawyer Kerry L. Armstrong and his staff will review your case thoroughly to determine the best course of action.

Since each case is different, no one defense strategy applies across the board. However, a few defenses often come up in cases like this. 

One of the best defenses comes straight from the statute itself.

The law says the person charged has a complete defense if a parent, responsible adult, or an employer directed them to possess the alcoholic beverage.

The law states that there must be a reasonable time between when the parents instructed the young person and when the young person possessed the alcohol. 

There are other potential defenses if the statutory exception does not apply to your case. The crime must occur in a public place, a public street, or a place open to the public.

So, if you are in a private home, the police cannot charge you with being a minor in possession of alcohol.

The police could charge you if you possessed alcohol in a bar or restaurant, in a public park, or while in a car. 

Underage DUI

California Vehicle Code §23126 indicates that a person under 21 who drives with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or greater violates the law.

You may know this law as California’s “Zero Tolerance Law.” Consequently, any person under 21 with any appreciable amount of alcohol in their system commits an infraction. 

California has a related statute that punishes underage DUI. Vehicle Code § 23140 indicates that a person under 21 with a BAC between 0.05% and 0.07% or driving under the influence of alcohol commits an offense.

Punishment for these offenses includes a fine, license suspension, and attendance at an alcohol education program. 

Contact a California DUI Defense Lawyer Today

The award-winning criminal defense lawyers with the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, understand the trouble you or your youngster faces.

A conviction for any crime can lead to problems getting into school or finding employment. Do not let that happen.

By calling our office to schedule a free and confidential meeting, you can learn more about how we can help. Call 619-234-2300 or click here to speak with us.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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