Florida has state-specific laws regarding underage drinking and possession of alcohol. Especially if you or your child are facing underage drinking charges, it will be helpful to understand the nuances of the law and penalties you might want to defend against. Keep reading our blog to learn more about Florida’s state-specific rules and potential defenses against a charge.
State Underage Drinking Penalties
Under Florida law, alcohol refers to commercial beverages, such as containers of beer, ale, malt liquor, malt beverage, wine or distilled spirits, and to mixed drinks, which are distilled spirits or other beverages comprising 0.05% or greater alcohol by volume.
There are two types of possession that can be punishable under state law – actual possession and constructive possession. Actual possession is when the beverage is on your person, such as in your hand or in your pocket. Constructive possession, on the other hand, exists when the following 3 elements are proven:
- knowledge of the presence of alcohol;
- knowledge of the alcohol’s illicit nature; and
- dominion and control are exercised over the alcohol.
If you are under the age of 21, it is illegal to possess any alcoholic beverage. The penalties for violating this law are:
- a second-degree misdemeanor for a first offense punishable by a fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail;
- a first-degree misdemeanor for a second offense punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to 1 year in jail.
Underage possession will also come with mandatory driver’s license suspensions. The court will direct the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles to revoke or suspend your driver’s as follows:
- 6-12 months for a first offense; and
- up to 2 years for a subsequent offense.
If your license is already suspended or revoked, the existing suspension period will be extended by 6-12 months for a first offense and 2 years for a subsequent offense. Further, for underage violators who are not of driving age, a first offense will prevent them from obtaining a license until 6-12 months after they’re of age and 2 years for subsequent offenses.
Note that while those under the age of 21 cannot possess any type of alcoholic beverage, these minor in possession (MIP) laws do not apply to servers who are 18 or older and employed by a licensed business that sells, prepares, or provides alcoholic beverages to the public.
At the court’s discretion and depending on your situation, you can apply for a restricted license if you meet the eligibility requirements. A “business purposes only” license will only let you drive for work, schooling, church, or medical reasons, and an “employment only” license will only allow you to commute to and from work and any on-the-job driving.
“Zero Tolerance” Law
The “Zero Tolerance” Law establishes that it is against the law for a driver under 21 to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .02% or higher. The penalties for violating the Zero Tolerance Law include a license suspension for 6 months. If your BAC was .05% or higher, your license will be suspended until you complete a substance abuse course.
Be aware that the Department of Motor Vehicles will not reinstate your driver’s license if you fail to complete the substance abuse educational course, and if you are under 18 at the time of the offense, the police are required to contact your parents.
It is illegal to use a borrowed, forged, counterfeit, or stolen Florida driver’s license or ID card to purchase or obtain alcohol. Violation of this law is a third-degree felony punishable by:
- a fine of up to $5,000; and/or
- up to 5 years in prison.
Anyone who provides a fake identification to a minor will be subject to the same above penalties.
Presence of an Adult
Note that unlike other states, Florida does not allow parents to authorize underage alcohol possession at home, and it prohibits selling or giving alcohol to minors, even if it is parents buying alcohol for minors. It is illegal for parents to allow their minor child to consume alcohol even in a licensed establishment.
Any adult who supplies or sells alcohol to minors will be held responsible for any injuries or damages caused by the underage person. This applies to adults who allow minors to consume alcohol at their bars, restaurants, and stores that might allow minors to consume alcohol at a location under their supervision. The minor may be charged with underage possession and consumption of alcohol, and the adult who allowed this behavior will be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by:
- a fine of up to $500; and/or
- up to 60 days in jail.
Defending Against Alcohol-Related Charges
Some potential defenses against alcohol-related charges could be arguing lack of knowledge that the beverage was alcoholic or that the alcoholic beverage was in your presence. For example, you could argue that you didn’t know the beverage you were holding for someone was alcohol.
The alcoholic nature of the beverage is also a defense. For instance, if a mixed drink has less than 0.05% alcohol by volume, it is not considered alcoholic under Florida law. If the police fail to secure the mixed drink in question, they cannot prove its alcohol by volume and thus charge you for possession.
Some other common defenses against your charges could be:
- entrapment into possession;
- detainment without probable cause to believe you’re underage;
- lack of a warrant or probable cause to enter the premises.
Facing Underage Drinking Charges?
If you or your child are facing underage drinking charges, do not hesitate to contact an attorney right away. Good legal representation can make a significant difference in the sentencing you’ll receive, whether they argue for a lesser charge or alternative sentencing. Our team at Hubbs Law, P.A. can take a look at your case and help you determine your next steps in the legal process.
Contact our attorneys at Hubbs Law, P.A. about your underage drinking case today.