Underage drinking has become one of the more prevalent criminal offenses faced by high school and college students across the nation. While it may seem like a rite of passage in certain social circles, the consequences of getting caught with an alcoholic beverage as a person under 21 can be severe, especially in Florida. 

Getting arrested as a minor in possession of alcohol is not just an inconvenience – it can lead to expensive fines, probation, and in some cases, even jail time upon conviction. What starts as a seemingly harmless act of having a drink in hand at a party can quickly spiral into severe legal consequences for the unsuspecting individual. 

For anyone accused of unlawful possession of alcohol under the age of 21, prioritizing the search for a seasoned defense attorney becomes paramount in protecting your rights and safeguarding your future.

South Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

Finding a skilled defense attorney who understands the nuances of Florida’s underage drinking laws is crucial if you or your child are facing criminal allegations. If you are having difficulty understanding the charges against you, or want to explore defense options to fight against a conviction, call the Law Offices of Ian Goldstein today at (561) 600-0950 for a free consultation to discuss your case details. 

How Florida Defines Under 21 Possession of Alcohol

In the state of Florida, the legal drinking age follows the federal standard for the legal drinking age in the United States: 21 years old. 

Florida Statute Section 562.111 provides that it is illegal for any person under the age of 21 to have possession of an alcoholic beverage. 

An alcoholic beverage is defined under Florida Statute Section 856.015 as any distilled spirit or beverage that contains 0.5 percent of alcohol or more by volume. Alcoholic beverages can include: 

  • Beer;
  • Wine;
  • Liquor;
  • Mixed drinks; or
  • Other kinds of alcoholic drinks intended for consumption.

Penalties for a Minor in Possession of Alcohol 

An individual under 21 who is caught in possession of an alcoholic beverage faces a second-degree misdemeanor. A conviction for a second-degree misdemeanor carries the following penalties: 

  • Up to $500 in fines; 
  • Up to 6 months of probation; and
  • Up to 60 days in jail. 

However, an individual under 21 who is caught in possession of an alcoholic beverage after being convicted of a previous possession of alcohol charge faces a first-degree misdemeanor. A conviction for a first-degree misdemeanor carries the following penalties:

  • Up to $1,000 in fines; 
  • Up to 12 months of probation; and
  • Up to one year in jail. 

While law enforcement remains strict and diligent when it comes to underage drinking, there are several exemptions to an under 21 alcohol possession charge provided under Florida Statute Section 562.111:

  • Individual was employed at an establishment where alcohol was served; or
  • Individual was a student of at least 18 years of age who was required to taste an alcoholic beverage as their required curriculum at a postsecondary educational institution and the alcoholic beverage remained in the possession and control of authorized instructors who were at least 21 years old.

In addition to the fines and sentencing outlined under Florida law, an individual convicted of an under 21 possession of alcohol charge can also have their driving privileges revoked for up to 6 months. 

Contact an experienced South Florida defense attorney if you have questions about the charges against you and their resulting penalties. 

Juvenile First Offender Program

In some cases, Florida offers leniency to first-time juvenile offenders in the form of a juvenile first offender program (JFO). As stated on the website of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, a JFO is a voluntary program aimed to help reduce recidivism. First-time juvenile offenders who have been arrested for the following types of offenses may be eligible to participate in a JFO program: 

    • Shoplifting;
    • Trespassing;
    • Possession of marijuana under 20 grams;
    • Possession of paraphernalia;
    • Simple battery;
    • Criminal mischief; and

Juvenile in possession of alcohol. 

Florida Statute Section 985.03 defines a juvenile as any person under the age of 18 who is alleged to have committed a violation of law. That means an individual charged with underage possession of alcohol who is between the ages of 18-20 is not eligible for a JFO program. 

If you do meet the initial criteria for a JFO program in Florida, the participating juvenile offender must complete the following steps:

  1. Receive the Notice of Orientation;
  2. Admit guilt for the offense;
  3. Sign a statement waiving their rights to due process; 
  4. Comply with any sanctions such as:
  • Community service;
  • Anti-theft or anger management classes;
  • Drug testing;
  • Observing a curfew;
  • Participation in youth court; 
  • Writing essays; and
  • Writing letters of apology;
  1. Be willing to participate in the program, which includes:
    • School monitoring;
    • Monthly office visits; and
    • Workshops, counseling and treatment. 

Keep in mind that the JFO program typically lasts around 90 days. If the juvenile does not meet all JFO criteria, fails to complete all forms of required participation, or is arrested for a new offense, their case will be forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office to file the criminal charge(s). 

Contact a West Palm Beach defense attorney if you believe you may be eligible for the JFO program. 

Defenses for a Minor Charged with Unlawful Possession of Alcohol 

A person under 21 who has been accused of unlawful alcohol possession or consumption may be feeling overwhelmed about their situation and how to proceed. It is always important to note that you can still receive legal help even if you have already been charged with a crime. 

If you are a young adult or juvenile facing a criminal accusation, or the parent of a minor who was charged with unlawful possession of alcohol, contact the attorneys with Ian Goldstein Law Firm to determine if any of the following defenses may apply to the case:

  • Defendant was holding a non-alcoholic beverage;
  • The alcoholic beverage(s) was found in a place where more than one person could have possession over it;
  • Defendant was a service employee who was within the lawful terms of their job by serving alcohol;
  • Defendant was merely in temporary possession of the alcohol while holding it for someone else and lacked knowledge of its contents;
  • Defendant lacked knowledge that an alcoholic beverage was in their constructive possession;
  • Lack of search warrant or probable cause by arresting officer(s);
  • Failure to preserve the evidence of the alleged alcoholic drink; or 
  • Defendant was experiencing an alcohol-related overdose and may not be arrested, charged, prosecuted, or penalized for a violation, under Florida Statue Section 562.112(2).

Contact a Juvenile Defense Attorney in West Palm Beach, FL

Criminal offenses involving juveniles or individuals under the age of 21 can often be complicated, especially for the person who is facing the charge. If you or a loved one are accused of underage drinking, it is extremely important that you prioritize finding the right attorney. These cases often have lasting repercussions for young people and can even result in the loss of a scholarship or enrollment at a college or university. 

When you’re in need of criminal defense, you’ll want help from Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers with years of experience. Ian Goldstein and his team have represented clients of all ages and walks of life. We will provide you with a free consultation to go over your case details when you call our office today at (561) 600-0950.