Introduction

A minor in possession of alcohol charge, or Business & Professions Code § 25662(a), can be filed as either a misdemeanor or an infraction.

In Chico and Butte County, a MIP charge is usually the result of walking down the street in the “5th & Ivy” area where on weekends and holidays there are Chico PD officers who are stationed there specifically to cite minors in possession.  Despite the seeming harmlessness of a minor carrying a can of beer down the street, the crime carries relatively harsh consequences including a mandatory one-year driver license suspension.  Calling a local Chico criminal defense & MIP lawyer for a free consultation could help you save your driver license.  Even if you feel like there’s no defense because you are a minor and you were in possession of alcohol, it is possible to fight the case and win.

The Statute(s)

Business & Professions Code § 25662(a):

“Except as provided in Section 25667 or 25668, any person under 21 years of age who has any alcoholic beverage in his or her possession on any street or highway or in any public place or in any place open to the public is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of two hundred fifty dollars ($250) or the person shall be required to perform not less than 24 hours or more than 32 hours of community service during hours when the person is not employed or is not attending school.

A second or subsequent violation shall be punishable as a misdemeanor and the person shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or required to perform not less than 36 hours or more than 48 hours of community service during hours when the person is not employed or is not attending school, or a combination of fine and community service as the court deems just. It is the intent of the Legislature that the community service requirements prescribed in this section require service at an alcohol or drug treatment program or facility or at a county coroner’s office, if available, in the area where the violation occurred or where the person resides…”

The Elements

To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:

  1. The defendant [unlawfully] possessed an alcoholic beverage (in/ on) a (street[,]/ [or] highway[,]/ [or] public place[,]/ [or] a place open to the public);

AND

  1. At the time, the defendant was under 21 years old.

A person under 21 years old may be in possession of alcohol lawfully (see below), the crime of being a MIP requires proof that the person was unlawfully in possession of alcohol.

A person can possess something even is s/he is not holding or touching it.  In cases where the person is not touching the alcohol, a right to control or control over it would be sufficient to prove possession.  Two people may jointly be in possession of alcohol at the same time where each has the right to control the alcohol.  Merely being in the same area of alcohol without more is not possession.

Being in public place or a place open to the public is required.  Inside a private residence is not a public place unless the residence has been opened up to the general public.  Sidewalks, streets, public parks, and establishments open to the public are all places a person can be cited for the crime of MIP.

Penalties

Penalties vary from county to county.  Butte County’s MIP punishment consists of a $426.00 fine and a one year driver license suspension.  A person may opt to do community service to satisfy the fine amount if s/he chooses.  A lawyer may petition the court for you to obtain a restricted driver license after 30 days of the suspension period.

Defenses

There are several defenses available to a person charged with a MIP.  The first set of defenses simply involve arguing one or more of the elements of the crime has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  For example, if the alleged crime did not take place in a public area, the person is not guilty of being a minor in possession under Business & Professions Code § 25662(a).  Another possible defense is that the person was not in actual or constructive possession of the alcohol.

A minor also has a complete defense to the MIP charge if:

  1. The person was following the instructions in a timely manner of an adult parent, guardian, employer, or responsible adult relative to deliver or dispose of the alcohol.
  2. Where the minor was acting in an emergency situation and called 911.

As with every crime, a criminal defense lawyer can fight your case on the basis of an unlawful detention.  Where an officer violates your rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, the case may be dismissed on that basis.  Officers cannot detain a person or search a person without justification.  Often, police officers conduct stops and searches without reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe the person had committed a crime.  When this happens, the evidence derived from the illegal detention and/ or search is inadmissible in court, and the case may be dismissed.

Miscellaneous Information

The Process

In Butte County, almost all MIP cases begin with a citation by a local law enforcement agency such as the Chico PD, Chico Campus PD, Butte County Sheriff’s Department or the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).  The minor suspected of unlawfully possessing alcohol usually signs a promise to appear and is released by the agency.  The person is usually ordered to appear in the Chico Courthouse for his/ her arraignment.  At that appearance the person will be told what the charges are and asked to either plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest, or s/he may be given a new and later court date for the purpose of retaining counsel in the matter without entering a plea.

Those defendants who choose to hire a private criminal defense lawyer do not have to attend court, the lawyer can appear on the client’s behalf for all parts of the case if the client desires.

Restricted Driver License

If you are convicted of a MIP, or after discussing your case with a MIP lawyer you decide you do not want to fight the case and you would rather enter a guilty or no contest plea, you may be eligible for a restricted driver license.  A restricted driver license would allow you to drive between homes, to and from school, work, during the scope of your employment, and for specific medical appointments.  The Law Offices of Matthew S. Luzaich can petition the court to get you a restricted driver license 30 days after your driver license is suspended.

What You Should Do

Call Chico MIP lawyer Matthew Luzaich for a free confidential legal consultation today to discuss the facts of your case, possible defenses and outcomes.  Often times there are flaws with the government’s case against you or the officer made an illegal detention which can lead to a dismissal of your case.

If no defenses apply to you and you decide there is no way to contest the charge, a conviction of B&P Code § 25562(a) will result in your license being suspended for one year, but you may be eligible for a restricted driver’s license.  If you need your driver’s license for driving to and from home, school, specific medical appointments and family member medical appointments, work and during the scope of work, we can petition the court to get you a restricted driver’s license for those purposes.

We can provide this service separately from fighting your case at a reduced cost if you have decided not to fight your case or if you’re reading this after having previously entered a guilty or no contest plea to the charge.

The first step is to call MIP lawyer Matthew Luzaich to discuss your case and see what your options are.  Call for a free consultation today.

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