Summer is here and that means high school graduation, celebrations, and late night or all night bonfires, and most likely alcohol. The warning is always to not drink and drive, but even if a young person consumes alcohol and does not drive there is still criminal liability—not only for themselves but, depending on the circumstances, criminal culpability of other people as well. Consider the overall statute: RCW 66.44.270. It reads as follows but broken down subsection by subsection.
Section One: The criminalization of providing or permitting consumption
The first section criminalizes the giving of alcohol to a minor or permitting consumption under circumstances under their control and/or supervision.
(1) It is unlawful for any person to sell, give, or otherwise supply liquor to any person under the age of twenty-one years or permit any person under that age to consume liquor on his or her premises or on any premises under his or her control. For the purposes of this subsection, "premises" includes real property, houses, buildings, and other structures, and motor vehicles and watercraft. A violation of this subsection is a gross misdemeanor.
Section Two: Possession
Section 2 is the law that we traditionally understand to be MIP. However, possession is not limited to the act of physical possession.
(2)(a) It is unlawful for any person under the age of twenty-one years to possess, consume, or otherwise acquire any liquor.
(b) It is unlawful for a person under the age of twenty-one years to be in a public place, or to be in a motor vehicle in a public place, while exhibiting the effects of having consumed liquor.
For purposes of this subsection, exhibiting the effects of having consumed liquor means that a person has the odor of liquor on his or her breath and either:
(i) Is in possession of, or close proximity to, a container that has or recently had liquor in it; or (ii) by speech, manner, appearance, behavior, lack of coordination, or otherwise, exhibits that he or she is under the influence of liquor.
This subsection (2)(b) does not apply if the person is in the presence of a parent or guardian or has consumed or is consuming liquor under circumstances described in subsection (4), (5), or (7) of this section.
So, under 21 and you drink alcohol or possess it, you can face the criminal charge of MIP. Alternatively, if in a public place or a vehicle and you smell like alcohol, AND/OR appear to have drunk, or have an alcohol container full, half, empty, or otherwise appear to be "under the influence," it's a possible MIP. So the net widens in terms of having facts to prosecute.
Section Three: The exceptions
A special section, of the statute, subsection (3) tells us that other sections above don't always apply. It's a section that tells us what is not illegal despite the rules above.
(3) Subsections (1) and (2)(a) of this section do not apply to liquor given or permitted to be given to a person under the age of twenty-one years by a parent or guardian and consumed in the presence of the parent or guardian. This subsection shall not authorize consumption or possession of liquor by a person under the age of twenty-one years on any premises licensed.
So, in the privacy of the Parental home, when the PARENT of the minor permits it, no MIP, but if the child’s friend consumes, then the Parent faces charges under section 1, but only in so far as the non-child minor.
Section Four: Medical exceptions
A further exception:
(4) This section does not apply to liquor given for medicinal purposes to a person under the age of twenty-one years by a parent, guardian, physician, or dentist.
Alcohol for medicinal purposes are few and far between these days, but fairly obvious exceptions here that reiterate the Parental right, as well as making sure doctors and dentist are not criminalized.
Section Five: Religious exceptions
Another exception is during religious services and ceremony but only as much as necessary. The challenge to the law here may well be whether the religion is recognized as such, and what is "necessary".
(5) This section does not apply to liquor given to a person under the age of twenty-one years when such liquor is being used in connection with religious services and the amount consumed is the minimal amount necessary for the religious service.
Section Six: Special permit
Subsection (6) permits MIP by way of special "permit".
(6) This section does not apply to liquor provided to students under twenty-one years of age in accordance with a special permit issued under RCW 66.20.010(12). (That special law reads as follows):
Where the application is for a special permit to allow tasting of alcohol by persons at least eighteen years of age under the following circumstances:
(a) The application is from a community or technical college, a regional university, or a state university;(b) The person who is permitted to taste under this subsection is enrolled as a student in a required or elective class that is part of a culinary, sommelier, wine business, enology, viticulture, wine technology, beer technology, or spirituous technology-related degree program;(c) The alcohol served to any person in the degree-related programs under (b) of this subsection is tasted but not consumed for the purposes of educational training as part of the class curriculum with the approval of the educational provider; (d) The service and tasting of alcoholic beverages is supervised by a faculty or staff member of the educational provider who is twenty-one years of age or older. The supervising faculty or staff member shall possess a (lawfully issued alcohol) server permit; (e) The enrolled student permitted to taste the alcoholic beverages does not purchase the alcoholic beverages; and (f) The permit fee for the special permit provided for in this subsection (12) must be waived by the board;
So, here we have an exception to make sure the education of minors, who do not actually consume do not fall prey to enforcement of MIP law as well as protect their teachers, but as you can see, very regulated.
Section Seven: Safe harbors
The remaining sections speak to a form of safe harbor for the benefit of health and wellness of a minor who may have drunk too much illegally, but those who help are not prosecuted, and their initial act of MIP cannot be proven by evidence separate from the evidence of their medical need.
(7)(a) A person under the age of twenty-one years acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing alcohol poisoning shall not be charged or prosecuted under subsection (2)(a) of this section, if the evidence for the charge was obtained as a result of the person seeking medical assistance. (b) A person under the age of twenty-one years who experiences alcohol poisoning and is in need of medical assistance shall not be charged or prosecuted under subsection (2)(a) of this section, if the evidence for the charge was obtained as a result of the poisoning and need for medical assistance. (c) The protection in this subsection shall not be grounds for suppression of evidence in other criminal charges.
Section Eight: Ensures future licensing
Finally, the last section makes it clear that a commission of a MIP while under age 21 will not prohibit future licensing in the alcohol service/sale industry.
(8) Conviction or forfeiture of bail for a violation of this section by a person under the age of twenty-one years at the time of such conviction or forfeiture shall not be a disqualification of that person to acquire a license to sell or dispense any liquor after that person has attained the age of twenty-one years.
As evidenced by this blog, it should be obvious that the crime of MIP covers a wide variety of behaviors and even allows for the prosecution of non-minors, who play a role in permitting or "furnishing" alcohol. Every violation of the statute is a Gross Misdemeanor, and that means under 21 or over 21, the maximum sentence is 364 days jail and/or $5,000.00 fine. There is no minimum sentence, thus upon a conviction, the Judge can sentence up to the maximum however s/he thinks is appropriate given the facts of the case. A consequence, the charge of MiP, is among the most serious of misdemeanors and should never be defended without the assistance of a lawyer who focuses on alcohol related offenses.