Under Arizona law, it’s generally illegal for anyone under twenty-one to possess alcohol. Under the minor in possession statute, you can be prosecuted for simply possessing alcohol, even when it hasn’t been opened. That’s because an MIP citation doesn’t require proof of consumption; it only requires proof of possession. Whether your holding case of beer, glass of wine, or bottle of liquor, you can be charged with MIP.

ARS 4-244(9) reads that “it’s unlawful… for a person under the legal drinking age to buy, receive, have in the person’s possession or consume spirituous liquor.” This criminal charge is common in Arizona’s Criminal Courts—especially in Tempe, Scottsdale, Tucson, and Chandler.

To discourage students and minors from drinking, Tempe, ASU, and Scottsdale police issue criminal MIP tickets. Arizona’s officials emphasize that the objective is to combat the dangers of underage drinking. Sadly, the unspoken goal is to generate revenue for government agencies. While Arizona touts a noble pursuit, we’re left with kids getting permanent criminal records. Young adults, and their parents, are left to mitigate the negative and lasting impacts of a publicly-recorded criminal case.

Tobin Law Office frequently represents young adults, and consults parents, on MIP cases. Typical courts we appear in for MIP charges include Tempe Municipal Court, Kyrene Justice Court, University Lakes Justice Court, and Scottsdale City Court.

For out-of-state clients, we’re often able to handle the case so that they never step foot in the courtroom or return to Arizona.

arizonas minor in possesion charge

What does possession mean in MIP Cases?

Arizona law recognizes different types of possession. Actual Possession is where you knowingly had direct physical control over alcohol. This might be where alcohol is found in your hand, clothing, or a bag you’re carrying. Constructive Possession means the defendant knowingly exercised dominion or control over it, either acting alone or through another person. Under this theory, there might be alcohol in a dorm, house, bedroom, bar, restaurant, or car. While you can be charged under a constructive possession theory, it’s usually harder for the prosecutor to prove due to plausible explanations.

Possession of alcohol can be sole or joint. Sole possession means, acting alone, you had possession of alcohol. Joint possession means that you shared possession with one or more individuals. The joint possession theory can be harder to prove because the others represent reasonable doubt.

Exceptions to Arizona’s Minor in Possession Law.

There are a few exceptions to the MIP statute. Pursuant to ARS 4-226(3)(a), minors can have alcohol for medicinal purposes. In addition, under ARS 4-226(4) and ARS 4-249, minors can have alcohol for religious purposes. Under either exception, the alcohol cannot endanger the health or safety of the public. Our office finds that these exceptions rarely come up in criminal cases.

Tobin Law Office
1910 S. Stapley Dr., Suite 221
Mesa, AZ 85204


Penalties for Arizona’s Minor in Possession Law.

Under ARS 4-246(B), minor in possession is specifically designated a class one misdemeanor. As a class 1 misdemeanor, the maximum penalties are 180 days in jail, 3 years of probation, and up to $4575 in fines and surcharges. A more common sentence–especially for first or second time offenders—is probation with fines, alcohol treatment, and community service. While jail is unlikely, a permanent criminal conviction is a genuine concern. That’s because Arizona doesn’t have expungement.

Penalties a Judge Can Impose in MIP Cases:

  • Permanent criminal conviction
  • Alcohol counseling and classes
  • Up to 180 days in jail
  • Up to 3 years of probation
  • $4,575
  • Community service.
  • Restitution
  • Under A.R.S. 4-246(D) “…the court may suspend the privilege to drive of a person who is under eighteen years of age for a period of up to one hundred eighty days on receiving the record of the person’s first conviction for a violation of section 4-244, paragraph 9.”

When faced with these penalties and consequences, having a chandler defense attorney guide you through your criminal case ensures rights are protected and consequences are minimized. If there is an avenue for a dismissal or acquittal, it be discussed, addressed, and sought.

Collateral Consequences to Underage Drinking.

MIP convictions might negatively impact applications, scholarships, financial aid, employment, extra-curricular activities, campus housing, and more. Many colleges, and related-programs, have their own administrative rules for alcohol violations.

Alcohol Diversion or Deferred Prosecution May Provide an Opportunity to Avoid a Permanent Conviction.

Most criminal courts have alcohol diversion for those with a limited criminal history. These programs require anywhere from an eight-hour class to a three-month program. Diversionary programs include fees because they’re run by outside providers that contract with the government. Of course, some of that money is coming back to government agencies.

We often guide clients in gaining acceptance into an alcohol diversion program. Diversion can be highly beneficial. If you complete diversion, or deferred prosecution, the underlying charge is dismissed and any plea is set aside. So long as program requirements are successfully completed, the minor in possession charge is permanently dismissed with no conviction. In some circumstances, a Defendant can complete the program while living outside Arizona. We can sometimes handle an MIP case without the client ever returning.

Tempe, ASU, Scottsdale, and Chandler Courts.

Most MIP cases arise out of Tempe, ASU, and Scottsdale. When cited by Arizona State University Police, the underage drinking case is often held at the University Lakes Justice Court or Kyrene Justice Court. Both justice courts are inside the San Tan Regional Court Center in downtown Chandler. When cited by Tempe Police, the case will likely be at the Tempe Municipal Court next to the Tempe Police Station. Scottsdale police cite MIP cases into the Scottsdale City Court.

Is there a Jury in Minor in Possession Cases?

No. Defendants cannot get a jury trial for MIP. Instead, the case is litigated before, and decided by, a single judge. While you face up to one hundred eighty days in jail, Arizona Courts don’t think that’s significant enough to justify a jury trial. See Raye v. Jones (Ariz. App. 2003).

Defenses to Minor in Possession Charges.

Constitutional Violation: The constitution protects against unreasonable police conduct. The law prohibits unreasonable searches, arrests, detainments, and coercive questioning. The government must have a warrant unless there’s a specific exception supported by detailed information. If any government agent violates these rights, a criminal charge can be challenged, suppressed, and dismissed. Common violations include illegal detainment, unsupported reasonable suspicion, Miranda violations, coerced statements, and lack of probable cause.

Statutory Exceptions: Exceptions to Minor in Possession laws includes legitimate medical or religious reasons for possession.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: Any evidence or testimony that comes from unconstitutional government conduct cannot be used at trial. Thus, once a violation occurs, any evidence discovered thereafter cannot be used against you.

No Criminal Intent: Possession law requires knowledge of what you possess. The prosecutor must prove that you knew an item contained alcohol.

Alcohol Belongs to Someone Else: When alcohol is discovered among two or more individuals, there may be doubts as to who it belongs to.

Mere smell of Alcohol: The mere smell of alcohol, alone, is not sufficient to prove an MIP charge. The smell of alcohol on clothing and companions are reasonable explanations, among others.

Only an Admission: An out-of-court confession, alone, is insufficient. While the government may present a confession as an exception to hearsay, it must produce corroborating evidence.

Mere Presence: A person’s mere presence at a bar or party is insufficient. There must be direct or circumstantial evidence you knew about alcohol and that you exercised dominion or control over it.


It’s important to understand your rights and options when going into an MIP case. With the help and guidance of an experienced Tempe Criminal Attorney, you can get into diversion, reduce the charges and penalties, seek a dismissal, or fight for an acquittal at trial. In most cases, Tobin Law Office and our affordable Arizona defense attorneys can handle and MIP for you so that you never need to set foot in the courtroom.

Contact Tobin Law Office by Phone, Email, or Text for a Free Consultation with Mr. Tobin on Minor in Possession of Alcohol or MIP charges.

Call Tobin Law Office to learn how we can help you avoid a permanent criminal conviction for Minor in Possession.