Understanding the Laws on Underage Drinking in California


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Like many other states, California has a number of underage drinking laws that prohibit people under 21 years of age from drinking or being in possession of alcohol. Specific laws that individuals should be aware of and related information about these laws include:

Possession of Alcohol

It is illegal in California for a minor to be in possession of alcohol in any public place. In order to prove the elements of this offense, the prosecution must establish that the defendant was under the age of 21 at the time of the offense, either constructively or actually possessed an alcoholic beverage and that the possession was in a public place or place open to the public, including a street or highway. Based on this wording, it is not illegal for a minor to be in possession of an alcoholic beverage in his or her own home.

A first offense of this charge results in a fine of $250 and community service from 24 to 32 hours of community service. A second or subsequent offense results in a fine up to $500 and 36 to 48 hours of community service. Additionally, a conviction results in a one-year suspension of the individualís driverís license.

Underage Consumption While Driving

It is also illegal for an underage motorist to consume any alcohol. If a motorist is caught driving while having a blood alcohol content of .01 percent or higher, he or she can be charged with an infraction of Californiaís zero tolerance law. This can result in a fine up to $250 and a loss of his or her driving privileges for a year or more.

Underage DUI

Underage motorists can be charged with underage DUI if they have a blood alcohol content of .05 percent or higher. A conviction of this nature can result in a one-year license suspension, a fine between $100 and $300 and the requirement to complete an alcohol education program.

Open Container Law

It is also illegal for a minor to be in possession of an open container of alcohol while in a motor vehicle. There are certain exceptions under this law, such as if the minor was accompanied by a parent and the transportation was occurring for the parentís work or the minor was transporting the alcohol by an instruction from his or her employer, parent or guardian. A conviction for this crime can result in jail time up to six months, a maximum fine of $1,000, an impound of the vehicle that was used to transport the vehicle and a driverís license suspension.

Prohibition of Underage Drinkers in Home

Parents are prohibited from permitting their child or anyone else under 18 years of age from consuming alcohol or drugs in their home and the child is under the influence of drugs or has a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent, the parent knowingly allows the child to drive a car and the child causes an accident. A conviction for this offense can result in a fine up to $1,000 and jail time of up to one year.

Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor

California prohibits actions that cause a minor to behave in an illegal manner. This offense may be charged when an adult furnishes alcohol to a minor. This charge can also be made against minors who furnish alcohol to other minors. This offense is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

Public Intoxication

A person of any age cannot be drunk in public if the intoxication is unable to exercise care for himself or herself, presents a safety risk to others or interferes with, obstructs or prevents others from using roadways in a safe manner.

Prohibition Against Businesses Furnishing Alcohol

Retail businesses are prohibited from knowingly allowing an underage person to consume alcohol on their premises. This charge is a misdemeanor offense and results even if the business owner did not know the person was under 21. The maximum penalty is a fine of $1,000 and one year in county jail.

Prohibition Against Businesses Furnishing Alcohol when an Accident Occurs

If a business furnishes alcohol to an underage person and then that underage person gets in an accident that results in serious bodily injury or death to himself, herself or another person, the business can be charged with this crime. The punishment results in a fine up to $1,000 and between six months and a year in jail.

A lawyer can review charges and provide assistance in these matters.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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