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Underage Drinking and Arizona Laws

(Last Updated On: October 23, 2018)

As prom and graduation party season comes upon us here in Arizona, many parents are worried about underage drinking and driving. As you advise your teen on what to do during these rites-of-passage, it’s important to understand the laws in Arizona and the possible consequences of underage drinking.


The legal drinking age in Arizona hasn’t always been 21. In 1971, Arizona, like many states, lowered its drinking age. Many states did so during the 60’s and 70’s as a result of the cultural changes occurring throughout the United States. However, in 1984, President Reagan signed into law the Uniform Drinking Age Act. This act required states to raisethe minimum age for purchasing and public consumption of alcohol to 21 or states would lose 10% of federal funding for highways. As a result, Arizona raised its legal drinking age to 21 in 1985.


Arizona’s DUI laws are zero-tolerance with regard to underage drinking and driving. In addition, there are state laws that address the issue of minors who are in possession of alcohol, as well as social host laws for adults who host minors in their homes or other locations where underage drinking might occur.


Often issues of underage drinking are considered by parents only while their children are in high school. If your child goes to college, whether in Arizona or out-of-state, underage drinking can still be a cause for legal concern. Colleges and universities work to address the challenges of underage drinking through education and law enforcement on their campus. It’s possible for your child to face legal consequences and need qualified legal representation if they should face charges while in college.


Minors in Possession of Alcohol

In Arizona, anyone under 21 is prohibited from consuming alcohol in public unless they are doing so for a legitimate medical reason or as part of a religious ceremony. These exceptions only apply as long as it does not endanger the health and safety of the public.


If individuals are under the age of 21, they are allowed to be in a bar as long as they are with a parent, guardian or spouse who is over 21 years of age. The minor is not allowed to order alcoholic beverages. Beyond consumption, however, is issue of possessing an alcoholic beverage.


Someone can be charged with being a minor in possession (MIP) of alcohol even if they are holding an unopened bottle of alcohol. The law does not require the officer to show that you were actually drinking. Possible penalties for an MIP include fines, court costs, attending a drug/alcohol program, community service, possible jail time, and/or a misdemeanor conviction on your criminal record.


Underage DUI

As we mentioned earlier, Arizona has zero-tolerance laws when it comes to underage DUI. If someone is under 21 and is driving or has actual physical control of a vehicle they can be arrested and charged with DUI. Impaired driving is not required. Your teenager can have a blood alcohol concentration of as little as .01 and be charged with DUI. And as with adults, the minor does not have to be driving. It is possible to be charged with DUI even if your child is sitting on the side of the road in the driver’s seat but not actually driving. Actual physical control is determined by all of the circumstances the driver is found in by an officer. To learn more about what actual physical control means in Arizona, go this article.


Underage DUI is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties may include up to 6 months in a juvenile detention facility, a $2500 fine, suspension of driver’s license, and/orinstallation of an ignition interlock device. An ignition interlock device is like a breathalyzer. It prevents a car from being started if the person breathing into the machine registers a blood alcohol content over a certain amount. A minor found guilty of DUI might be also required to attend drug or alcohol treatment programs and/or perform community service.


Hosting a Party at Your Home

One alternative many parents consider for their teens at prom and graduation time is hosting parties at their homes. Although you might choose to provide alcohol to your underage children in your own home, when you host a party, it is a different story.


Arizona law states:

A person who is of legal drinking age and who is an occupant of unlicensed premises is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor if both of the following apply:

1. Such person knowingly allows a gathering on such unlicensed premises of two or more persons who are under the legal drinking age and who are neither:

(a) Members of the immediate family of such person.

(b) Permanently residing with such person.

2. Such person knows or should know that one or more of the persons under the legal drinking age is in possession of or consuming spirituous liquor on the unlicensed premises.

An “occupant” is defined as a person who has legal possession or the legal right to exclude others from the unlicensed premises.


The bottom line is that if you host a party with two or more minors who are not members of your family and you know or SHOULD know that a minor is in possession of or drinking alcohol, you are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Just as in an underage DUI, the penalties for being found guilty of hosting a party are a maximum of a $2500 fine and/or up to 6 months in jail.


You might be asking yourself what happens if you have not provided alcohol to minors but someone else attending the party does? Since the law states that you are guilty if you knew or should have known minors were drinking or in possession of alcohol, the answer to this question depends on the circumstance surrounding the party.

For example, it’s fairly obvious that if you answer the door and two of your teen’s friend walk in with a six-pack of beer, you knew or should have known. But, in less obvious circumstances, it might be much harder to predict how law enforcement officers and the courts will handle such a case. The “should have known” is a gray area that requires examining all of the facts surrounding the situation.


Parents face a challenging situation when it comes to teen drinking and driving. You must balance the requirements of the law and protect your child, yourself, and others from potential legal liability and harm, while at the same time deal with the realities of underage drinking during this time of year.


If you find yourself or your teen facing charges of minor in possession, underage DUI, or a violation of social host laws, call our office to set up a consultation with one of our experienced DUI defense attorneys in Tucson or Phoenix. We have extensive experience working with clients and their teens to ensure that your and your child’s rights are protected.



Posted in Arizona DUI Law.


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