By: Cory Yager, Ex-Police Officer, Super Lawyer, and Award-Winning Criminal Defense Attorney Atlanta
Georgia alcohol laws regulating possession, consumption and by having an open container of alcohol in the motor vehicle, have penalties that can include loss of driving privileges or accumulating demerit points on your driving record at Georgia DDS. The legal drinking age in Georgia is 21 years of age, as it is in all other states.
Georgia drinking laws make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to possess or consume any amount of alcohol. If you are arrested for drinking and driving as a minor, you can be charged with an underage DUI offense as well as for minor in possession, or MIP.
Georgia DUI law has separate, more punitive guidelines on drivers under the age of 21 driving after consuming any alcoholic beverage. The Georgia alcohol limit for any motor vehicle driver is 0.02 grams percent. Allowing even a small amount of alcohol in the test seems to be contrary to the Georgia code, which proscribes drinking alcohol if below age 21 in GA.
That MIP statute allows no alcohol at all. The Governor’s office of Highway Safety promotes public service ads touting Georgia zero-tolerance policy. But, due to the limits of precision for any breathalyzer-type device, 0.020 is the range of variability in the two consecutive exhalations on a CMI Intoxilyzer 9000 machine.
Often, officers will cite a minor for possessing alcohol when the facts (e.g., probable cause to arrest or due to some Fourth Amendment search and seizure issue) are sketchy and questionable, at best. When a noise complaint comes from a neighborhood location, officers will round up and cite everyone at a party or even sitting in a car in the driveway or parked on the street, when law enforcement learns that alcohol (or drugs) are present.
These questionable and possibly bogus charges can be challenged, because being in attendance does not equate with being in violation of Georgia laws. If you did not consume any alcohol, being in a dwelling where others are imbibing alcohol does not make you responsible for possessing booze.
Based on our law office’s past court results, even if you were properly cited for a minor in possession of alcohol charge, our attorneys in Atlanta know multiple ways of handling such charges. Our objective is a dismissal and keeping your criminal record clean. The goal is to erase any trace of our client being cited or accused of the crime.
The penalties for underage alcohol use depend primarily upon whether you are charged with a DUI or a non-DUI offense. If the act is treated as a non-DUI offense such as possession of alcohol under 21, you have a much better chance of keeping your driver’s license than if you are charged with a DUI offense. If you were not driving at the time of your arrest, an underage alcohol possession charge will not cause a license suspension.
Open alcoholic beverages are always a problem in a car, SUV or pickup truck. This is because federal laws that were put in place over 40 years ago required states to create an open container violation criminalizing having any bottle, flask, can or cup with the seal broken or contents partially removed.
The concept of N.H.T.S.A. (the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) was to not allow any open containers in any device or apparatus used for the transportation of persons. Preventing auto accidents as the result of drinking and driving was the government’s safety objective.
Georgia and several other states pushed back against the overly broad limitation on personal freedoms. Georgia legislators tried to make exceptions for vehicles driven by persons for compensation, like taxi cabs. But the federal regulators rejected early attempts by the Georgia legislature to create state exceptions. So, OCGA 40-6-253 is our state’s open container GA code section.
The one place that the NHTSA officials found to be allowable was the use of motor homes that are primarily for the transportation of guests who have chartered the vehicle for group trips. However, if that bus crosses state lines, the open container law in other states may make this accommodation of passengers a crime.
Beyond being in a motor vehicle, unless a city has enacted a statute that allows pedestrians to carry an open alcohol container in public areas, local ordinances will prohibit drinking alcoholic beverages or carrying out an open alcohol container. In some places with designated cities, like the Milton GA open container law, tourists and locals can walk around in the designated parts of the riverfront area.
But, be aware that this is not like Mardi gras in New Orleans, where anything goes 24 hours a day. You need to learn and comply with the “start” time, such as 12:30 PM on a Sunday, and abide by the curfew, such as 1:00 AM.
What does MIP mean? In Georgia, under O.C.G.A. 3-3-23(a), a minor in possession of alcohol (MIP) can entail all crimes for underage drinking, such as possessing an open container, drinking any amount, thereby creating possession by consumption, or having a container of any type with a broken seal or with part of the contents partially consumed in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.
Some people are cited for a MIP charge plus driving under the influence. A DUI defense lawyer can sometimes find a favorable resolution of that underage driver’s case if his or her BAC levels are very low or zero, and the driving conduct was not egregious. If only charged with a MIP ticket, this is a good starting point.
Georgia has its own MIP law, but do not assume that another state’s statutes are the same. Many Georgia vacationers go to Florida and may run afoul of that state’s MIP laws by assuming all state laws are the same.
Plus, in states like South Carolina, if a car full of teenagers drinking alcohol is pulled over by police and alcohol is present, every underage person in that vehicle loses the right to drive in the Palmetto State! That day of fun could turn into your worst nightmare.
What happens if you get caught drinking under 21? At a minimum, expect to receive a court summons and be going to court. In some cases, especially when seen entering a motor vehicle with the keys or ignition fob, you may also find yourself cuffed and stuffed for drunk driving. The vehicle need not be cranked or moving for an officer to arrest you for being in actual physical control of that vehicle.
1. Is a MIP a misdemeanor? YES. A “Minor in Possession” charge (also called “MIP alcohol”), is a misdemeanor offense in the Georgia criminal code.
2. Will a person with an MIP be arrested? Arrest previously happened thousands of times a year. A change in Georgia law was enacted about 5 years ago that authorizes an officer to ticket an underage pedestrian and release him or her. If a police officer has enough evidence that a person under 21 has been drinking or is in possession of alcohol, and bad behavior or resistance to being cited occur an MIP arrest can occur.
3. What if I used a fake ID, and police find that false identification? Additional misdemeanor or felony charges will also be sought against a driver found attempting to use a fake ID.
4. What are the MIP penalties in Georgia? If convicted of minor in possession charges, the penalties you face will vary depending on any prior convictions or diversions or conditional discharge dispositions. Minor in Possession of an alcoholic beverage, or underage consumption of alcohol, is a misdemeanor charge in Georgia. This crime is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail, plus up to a $1,000 fine, plus surcharges. Jail time is rare, but potential long-term potential employment consequences could haunt you. College enrollment, study abroad programs, some students’ scholarships, difficulty enlisting for military service, and potential impact on driving privileges from points being added to your Georgia DDS record.
5. If I was released upon a traffic citation to appear in Court, do I have a criminal record? No. If you were only issued a citation for MIP and not fingerprinted and photographed at a police station, the misdemeanor charge will not appear on your criminal history and will not show up on a GCIC background check. If you were cited, arrested, booked, fingerprinted and had a mug shot taken, then the criminal charge will appear on your criminal record, both at GCIC and NCIC. This seems unfair since you have not been convicted of the crime, but J. Edgar Hoover convinced the federal government to track all such jail bookings of those fingerprinted at jail.
Depending on the nature of your offense, an underage DUI conviction may carry up to a one-year license suspension, along with a hefty fine. In most cases, your DUI sentence will also include mandatory probation, community service hours, and a substance abuse evaluation, with and treatment to be followed.
For repeat offenders within the past 10 years, a person who is convicted of a 2nd DUI in GA will face jail time, loss of all driving privileges for some period of time, 240 hours of community service, photo publication in the legal newspaper, and MANY more DUI penalties. A person with 3 DUI in GA convictions within ten years faces substantial jail time and could be declared a habitual violator.
Some people think that anything less than a DUI does not justify the cost of legal representation. You should have legal representation when you appear at court. A few of those reasons are set forth below.
Our criminal lawyers near me with top attorney ratings will know if your criminal court allows a program for MIP diversion. This permits you to have the MIP expunged, upon successful completion of terms and a probation period.
To talk to a law partner at our law firm, call 404-567-5515 for a FREE consultation about your facts and prior criminal history. Knowing that you have options for a favorable outcome can calm your nerves. Speak to Bubba Head, Georgia’s criminal defense lawyer with the highest lawyer ratings in alcohol and drug crimes cases.
Plus, the author of this page, Cory Yager is an ex-cop with thousands of MIP tickets issued, as well as Georgia open container violations and DUI arrests. Rounding out our three-partner law firm is AVVO superstar Larry Kohn, with in excess of 470 AVVO client ratings. So, don’t have second thoughts later when you can hire criminal lawyer near me on the front end, and save yourself from remorse later.
If the person arrested when under age 21 is past age twenty-one before his or her case goes to trial, that person (for sentencing and license suspension purposes) is treated the same way as an adult who is 21 or over. This is a loophole in Georgia law that only GA DUI specialists know.
However, a DUI attorney near me can use such “hidden” strategies to your advantage. In some situations, our criminal lawyers may advise clients to go to trial. By fighting a case, the person has the right to appeal pre-trial rulings by the Judge. So, to help set a legal precedent you may be advised to litigate an open container charge or MIP case at trial, and wither win or appeal.