Possession of Alcohol By a Minor

I represent young people charged with underage possession of alcohol (possession of alcohol by a minor) and facing driver’s license suspensions for convictions of that offense.

The legal drinking age in Connecticut and every other state is currently 21. For purposes of alcoholic beverage laws, a person under the age of 21 is classified as a minor. In Connecticut, it is unlawful for minors to possess alcohol.

Possession of Alcohol Is A Violation Not A Crime

Possession of Alcohol by a Minor is classified as a violation in Connecticut. It is not a misdemeanor or felony and is therefore not a crime. Still, it carries serious consequences: fines and suspensions of driver’s licenses and/or driving privileges. If you have been arrested or ticketed for one of these violations, there are many options you may have to avoid the fine and suspension, such as community service or an education program. Additionally, the police’s search and/or arrest may be illegal. I can help you effectively resolve your case. If you elect to plead guilty to the ticket, you will not have access to these options and will face suspension.

Sec. 30-89(a) of the Connecticut General Statutes effectively prohibits any purchase of alcohol by a person under the age of 21, even instances in which the underage person is not carded by the seller. The fine for the underage purchase of alcohol is $200 to $500. Sec. 30-88a prohibits the misrepresentation of age to purchase alcohol, which includes using a fake I.D., altered license or I.D. belonging to another person. This statute also imposes a $200 to $500 fine and also authorizes up to 30 days in jail.

In addition to not being allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages, individuals under the age of 21 are not allowed to possess them either. Sec. 30-89(b) forbids minors from possessing “any alcoholic liquor (1) on any public street or highway, or (2) in any other public or private location.” That means that a minor cannot possess alcoholic beverages anywhere. The fine for initial and subsequent violations is in the same $200 to $500 range as the preceding sections.

There are however some limited exceptions. Sec. 30-89(c) allows minors to possess alcohol for the following reasons:

  • If they are 18 and work for a liquor permit holder (e.g. restaurant, bar, store that has a permit) and must possess alcohol in the course of their employment
  • If they are accompanied by a parent, guardian or spouse of the minor, who is 21
  • If they are ordered by a physician
  • For religious practices (e.g. communion wine)

Fines are not the only penalties for underage possession of alcohol. Although it is not mentioned in the prohibition statutes, minors convicted of the purchase and/or possession of alcohol may have their driver's licenses suspended or delayed by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

It is also against the law to make a false statement or use a fake I.D. to attempt to purchase alcoholic beverages. Making a false statement is a violation. Using a fake I.D. is actually a misdemeanor, which is a crime. 

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Suspension Penalties

Sec. 14-111e authorizes the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the license or driving privileges for 30 days for alcohol possession in private places, 60 days for possession on roads or public places (includes possession in a vehicle on a road) and 150 days for a person convicted of using false identification. Additionally, even if alcohol is not purchased or possessed, possession of a false or altered ID may also lead to a two-month suspension of the possessor’s real license, pursuant to Sec. 14-111f. According to Sec. 14-111e(b), violators who do not yet have driver’s licenses will be delayed 150 days from obtaining licenses.

Note that people who have out-of-state driver’s licenses will have their Connecticut driving privileges revoked even though their licenses will not be suspended (although it may be possible, depending on the state, for the state that issued the license to suspend it).

`For individuals of all ages, it is unlawful, under Sec. 30-89a, to permit a minor to illegally possess alcohol on private property, or, upon knowing that a minor is in possession, to not make reasonable efforts to stop that possession. A first offense is an infraction. A subsequent offense authorizes a fine up to $500 and/or up to a year in jail.

The foregoing concerns only violations of state law. Cities and towns may enact and enforce their own ordinances to prohibit alcohol possession. These types of violations do not carry DMV suspensions. It is imperative that you know what you are charged for.

What if you have already received a suspension notice?

Often a person does not find out about the driver’s license suspension for an alcohol violation until the suspension notice from DMV arrives. It actually might not be too late to reopen the case and stop the suspension. To do so, one must file a motion to reopen in the proper court. If granted, the case will go back to the beginning. From that point, a defendant will have the opportunity to resolve the case in a manner that does not result in a license suspension. If you are in this situation, contact me.

Public Drinking

Public drinking (“open container”) and public intoxication are not state offenses in Connecticut. Many cities and towns, however, have their own ordinances regarding these subjects. Hartford, most notably, has a city ordinance prohibiting the public consumption of alcohol that is often issued at concerts as a summons. This can be issued in place of or in addition to a minor in possession ticket if the person is underage. Hartford police summon persons under this ordinance to Hartford Community Court, usually within a few days of the offense. Community Court is a joint venture between the City of Hartford and the Connecticut Judicial Branch that handles “quality of life” offenses in Hartford. For that reason, these charges are serious and cannot be brushed off.

Possession of Alcohol By A Minor Attorney in Connecticut

Attorney DeMatteo has years of experience defending many clients, including minors, against charges of public intoxication and alcohol possession. He will bring his knowledge and experience to your case in Connecticut, and he will work with you to achieve your goals, including reinstatement of your license.  Contact Chris for a free consultation.