Possession of Alcohol by a Person Under 21
What happens if you get caught drinking under 21 in Florida? If you get caught, you can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for being in possession of alcohol while under the age of 21 which is a second-degree misdemeanor. Any criminal record, even for a misdemeanor, might come with a lifetime of consequences.
For college students charged with possession of alcohol, their college or university might trigger a disciplinary action against them. The consequences are even more serious for young people planning on a career as a health care professional (physician or nurse), certified educator (teacher), member of the military, lawyer, or law enforcement officer.
Regardless of any future plans, the goal when representing a young person in any possession of alcohol charge is getting the charges dismissed outright. These cases are often difficult for the prosecutors to prove at trial because the officers rarely take a sample of the beverage into evidence or send it off to the crime lab for testing.
Although FSS 562.47 allows the arresting officer to offer an opinion about whether the beverage contained alcohol, judges often find that opinion insufficient to overcome the “beyond all reasonable doubt” standard.
With an aggressive defense, the prosecutor is often forced to DROP the charges outright. Although the prosecutor might offer the “misdemeanor diversion program” (often called “MIP”), getting the charges DROPPED OUTRIGHT is a better result, especially for a college student worried about the collateral consequences of a criminal case.
Getting the charges dropped outright is particularly important if you have no prior record.
Attorneys for Underage Alcohol Possession in Tampa, FL
At the Sammis Law Firm, our lawyers defend high-school and college students charged under Florida law with minor in possession of an alcoholic beverage throughout the greater Tampa Bay area including Tampa and Plant City, Hillsborough County, Florida. With offices in Tampa in Hillsborough County and New Port Richey in Pasco County, we also fight these cases throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.
We are also experienced in representing students at local colleges and universities including the University of Tampa (UT) and the University of South Florida (USF) who are charged with possession of alcohol by a person under 21 under Florida Statute Section 562.11. We also represent young people on more serious charges for possession of a fake or altered ID card or driver’s license.
The criminal defense attorneys at Sammis Law Firm fight for an outright dismissal in every case and rarely advise our client to enter a diversion program. Call (813) 250-0500 to speak with us today about the case.
Sting Operations for the Minor in Possession
A favorite target for undercover officers in Florida is the person under the age of 21 who is in possession of an alcoholic beverage. In fact, elaborate sting operations are set up to catch as many young people as possible in a single night at a single location. Popular sting operations occur at local college and university events, sporting events, and concerts. Other sting operations focus on
Other sting operations focus on nightclubs that allow young people over the age of 18 years old to enter. The young person who is most cooperative with the law enforcement officer is usually the one charged with this second-degree misdemeanor.
In a single night, one undercover officer can issue more than 20 criminal report affidavits (also called the “notice to appear“). Anyone charged with “possession of an alcoholic beverage” by a person under the age of 21 years old is faced with a criminal offense with criminal punishments on their criminal record.
Many of these sting operations are conducted by investigators or special agents with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) who bring pre-printed criminal record affidavits and notices to appear in court.
Statistics in Underage Alcohol Possession Cases
The statistics released by the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office show that each year a high number of these cases are prosecuted at the Tampa or Plant City Courthouse. Most of the cases involved a “Notices to Appear” for underage drinking. How many notice to appear citations were issued in Hillsborough County for under age 21 possession of alcohol?
- 2011 – 481
- 2010 – 632
- 2009 – 614
- 2008 – 502
- 2007 – 598
- 2006 – 777
- 2005 – 809
Officers also target college students at sporting events, especially tailgating parties outside football games for the local colleges including the University of South Tampa (USF) and the University of Tampa (UT). Any high school or college students cited for this criminal offense also face possible sanctions from their school which can lead to disciplinary action.
Sting Operations by HCSO’s S.U.C.C.E.E.D
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office targets underage drinking. The sting operations are called the Sheriff’s Underage Compliance Checks Education & Enforcement Detail Targeting (S.U.C.C.E.E.D.). Instead of helping young people succeed, the program often targets young people who are most cooperative with law enforcement offices including:
- those that talk to the officer instead of ending the consensual encounter;
- those who tell the officer their age; and
- those who hand the officer the alcoholic beverage when asked.
In fact, our of the last 8 sting operations at concerts in Hillsborough County, deputies have made a total of 51 underage possession arrests (including cases in which the young person was issued a notice to appear in court). During these sting operations, deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office will do all of the following:
- Conduct alcohol and tobacco compliance checks; and
- Attend and monitor high capacity venues to reduce underage consumption and possession of alcohol (including concert and sporting events);
The S.U.C.C.E.E.D. Deputies work in a coordinated effort with other state or local agencies, including the Tampa Police Department, the University of South Florida Police Department, the Temple Terrace Police Department and the Plant City Police Department. The law enforcement officers work together to enforce laws against underage possession and consumption.
Sting Operations by Law Enforcement Officers with Alcohol Beverages and Tobacco (ABT)
Recently in Tampa and Hillsborough County, FL, investigators with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) have set up sting operations to catch young people in possession of an alcoholic beverage in violation of Florida Statute Section 562.111(1).
These agents with the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco will complete an investigative report that alleges that the young person violated Section 562.111 by being in possession of an alcoholic beverage while under the age of 21 years old.
Many of the ABT agents will work special events including the Gasparilla Parade Route along Bayshore Blvd, sporting events, or concerts. The ABT special agents will report making observations of a young person either holding or drinking what appears to be an alcoholic beverage and approach the young person to investigate.
The ABT special agents will then report presenting their agency-issued credentials to identify themselves as a state law enforcement officer. The agents will then request identification from the suspects to verify his or her age for possession of the alcoholic beverage on a voluntary basis.
The agents will report “engaging in a voluntary conversation with the subject” to get them to admit their age and that the beverage they are holding contains alcohol. The agent will then make an arrest or issue a notice to appear before releasing the young person from the scene. The agents might also take a picture of the young person and the beverage or attempt to confirm its contents in accordance with Section 562.47, F.S.
The ABT investigators will arrive with pre-printed criminal report affidavits that all contain the same statement:
On or about the above listed at the listed time and location, the defendant, age ___, in Hillsborough County, Florida, did possess alcoholic beverages, to wit: _______, as witnesses by _______ and contrary to FSS 562.111. The defendant was observed as the person in possession of the listed alcoholic beverage and was further identified via: ________. The substance in the possession of the defendant was found to be an alcoholic beverage via FSS 562.47.
Florida Statute Section 562.47 is a rule of evidence that applies to prosecutions for violations of the Beverage Law. The statute provides:
- Proof that the liquor in question was and is known as whiskey, moonshine whiskey, shine, rum, gin, or brandy or by another similar name or names shall be prima facie evidence that such liquor is intoxicating and contains more than 4.007 percent of alcohol by volume and that same is intoxicating.
- Proof that the beverage in question was contained in a container labeled as “beer,” “ale,” “malt liquor,” “malt beverage,” “wine,” or “distilled spirits” or with other similar name and which bears the manufacturer’s insignia, name, or trademark is prima facie evidence that such beverage is an alcoholic beverage as defined in s. 561.01.
- Any person or persons who by experience in the past in the handling or use of intoxicating liquors, or who by taste, smell, or the drinking of such liquors has knowledge as to the intoxicating nature thereof, may testify as to his or her opinion whether such beverage or liquor is or is not intoxicating, and a verdict based upon such testimony shall be valid.
The Florida legislature created this statute because officers in the field complained that preserving a sample of the substance and sending it off to the crime lab for analysis would be to expensive. Few cases have gone up on appeal addressing the constitutionality of FSS 562.47 or the way it should be applied in a particular case.
In these cases, the special agent with the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (also known as FDAB&T) will “work” a local concert, sporting event, or business to conduct checks for underage subjects in possession of alcoholic beverages, a violation of FSS 562.111(1).
When the FDAB&T Special Agent sees a youthful appearing subject, the investigator will detain that person to determine their age and whether they are in possession of any alcoholic beverage. Although the young person isn’t obligated to produce their identification, many decide to cooperate fully with the investigation by producing their identification, handing over the beverages and truthfully answering any of the investigator’s questions.
This cooperation often results in the young person being charged with being a minor in possession of an alcoholic beverage. The evidence is seized and often disposed on scene when the officer throws it in the trash.
Disciplinary Actions by Local Colleges for Underage Possession of Alcohol
Disciplinary action by educational institutions throughout the Tampa Bay area can include expulsion or lesser sanctions such as suspension from school for a certain period of time, community service, and/or alcohol educational classes.
Important: Although this is a criminal offense with serious criminal penalties, important defenses might exist that can result in the charges being completely dismissed by the court or dropped by the prosecutor. No young person should walk into court to resolve the case without first meeting with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss the best way to resolve the case.
In many of these cases, the police target college students between the age of 18 and 21. Although drinking by anyone under the age of 21 is illegal and potentially dangerous, the effects of a criminal prosecution can be severe particularly to a young person pursuing an education and career opportunities. Young people pursuing a career as a teacher, certified educator, nurse, health care provider, lawyer, law enforcement officer or in the military are particularly impacted.
Although the consequences can be serious, Florida law also provides for important protections that can lead to the outright dismissal of charges by the court or the charges being dropped by the prosecutor.
Defenses to Underage Possession of Alcohol under Florida Law
Possible defenses under Florida law for offenses such as the under age 21 possession of an alcoholic beverage include:
- dismissal on due process grounds when the law enforcement officer fails to preserve a sample of the alleged “alcoholic beverage.” In fact, law enforcement officers rarely preserve a sample of the alcoholic beverage which often makes a successful prosecution much more difficult;
- exclusion of all evidence and dismissal of the charges when the arresting officer illegally detains and interrogates the young person about the possession or consumption of the alcoholic beverage;
- exclusion or suppression of evidence when the officer arrests the young person without “probable cause” to support the arrest;
- exclusion of statements when the officer fails to read the young person Miranda warnings; or
- dismissal of the charges when insufficient evidence exists to support a criminal prosecution.
At Sammis Law Firm, our lawyers defend high school and college students charged under Florida law with possession of alcohol by a person under the age of 21 years old throughout the greater Tampa Bay area including Tampa and Plant City, Hillsborough County, Florida.
We also represent juveniles and young adults throughout the Tampa Bay area including Clearwater and St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, Lakeland and Bartow in Polk County, New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, Brooksville in Hernando County, and Bradenton in Manatee County. Speak to one of our criminal defense attorneys today by calling (813) 250-0500.
Florida Statute Section 562.111 – Under Age 21 Possession of Alcohol
You should know the following about Florida law, statute section 562.111 for under age 21 possession of alcohol:
- The crime is a second-degree misdemeanor;
- If convicted of alcohol possession by anyone under the age of 21, you can receive a fine of up to $500, which does not include additional expenses for court costs or cost of prosecution;
- If convicted of under age 21 possession of alcohol you can be sentenced to up to sixty days in jail or six months probation; and
- For any finding of guilt the trial judge MUST revoke your driver’s license for at least six (6) months although the court is permitted to revoke your driver’s license for up to 12 months.
Investigative Aides – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Snitches
Parents should be aware of the dangers of allowing their child to act as a snitch in alcohol and tobacco cases. Florida Law Enforcement Agencies use both undercover officers and “investigative aids” for sting operations to catch underage possession of alcohol crimes.
An investigative aide is a student between the age of 14 to 19 who must receive permission from their parent to act as an investigative aide in Florida. The parent must sign a permission affidavit and the investigative aide must sign an “Agreement of Understanding” which discusses the rules of conduct for the high school or college student participating in the program.
The investigative aide or undercover officer may conduct the sting operation and locations including:
- Grocery store or convenience stores;
- Hotels or Motels;
- Liquor stores;
- Package stores; or
- Any other location that sells alcohol or tobacco products.
In many cases, the investigative aide is not properly trained or supervised during the investigation. In other cases, the law enforcement agency does not actually receive consent from the parent to put the child or young person to work as a snitch or investigative aide. Any mistake made by the investigative aide or law enforcement officer assigned to supervise the young person could result in the charges being dismissed.
The Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco is currently seeking volunteer investigative aids. For more information on the requirements of this program – click here to see the brochure called – “Become an Investigative Aide in Florida”. Parents should think carefully about all of the pros and cons before allowing their child to participate in such a program.
Alcohol Beverage Laws in Florida
- The crime of “Possession of Alcohol Beverage Under 21” is a second-degree misdemeanor for a first offense under Florida Statute Section 562.111(1). The statute makes it unlawful for any person under the age of 21, unless operating within the scope of his or her employment, to have in his or her possession alcoholic beverages. As a second degree misdemeanor, the statute of limitations for the offense is one year.
- The crime of “Possession of Alcohol Beverage Under 21” is a first-degree misdemeanor for a second or repeat offense under Florida Statute Section 562.111(1). The statute makes it unlawful for any person under the age of 21 who has been convicted of a violation of a section of 562.111(1) and who is thereafter convicted of a further violation of said section. As a first degree misdemeanor, the statute of limitations for this offense is two (2) years.
- The crime of “Selling Alcohol Beverage to a person Under 21 is a second-degree felony for a first offense charged under Florida Statute Section 562.11(1)(a). The statute prohibits a person from selling, giving, serving or permitting another be served alcoholic beverages to a person under 21 years of age or permit a person under 21 years of age to consume such beverages on the licensed premises. As a misdemeanor of the second degree, the statute of limitations is two (2) years.
- The crime of “Sell Alcohol Beverage to a person Under 21” for a second or subsequent time within a one (1) year period after a prior conviction is charged as a misdemeanor of the first degree. As a misdemeanor of the first degree, the statute of limitations is two (2) years.
University of Tampa and Under Age 21 Possession of Alcohol – Message from Dean of Students to parents with tips on the student’s first year. The article also outlines the problems with underage drinking and possession of alcohol.
Foundation for Accepting Alcohol Responsibility – Founded in 1991 by distillers, The Century Council is a national, non-profit organization formed to educate the public about the harms from young people consuming alcoholic beverages. Information on under age drinking statistics, stories, and laws across the nation. Chaired by the Honorable Susan Molinari, the Century Council acts an independent National Advisory Board made up of leaders in the law, education, business, medicine, government, and business.
Underaged Drinking Checks in Tampa / Plant City in Hillsborough County – Learn more about how the deputies at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office targets underage drinking and sales of alcohol to minors to help our youth “S.U.C.C.E.E.D” (Sheriff’s Underage Compliance Checks Education & Enforcement Detail). Many of these targeted enforcement efforts occur at high capacity venues like concerts and sporting events.
Possession of Alcohol by a Person under 21 – Visit the website of the Dean of Students of the University of Tampa to learn more about Drug and Alcohol laws in Florida including the offense of possession of alcohol by a person under 21 prosecuted under Florida Statute Section 562.111. Other alcohol-related offenses include crimes for open containers, under age drinking, drinking and driving, providing alcohol to minors, and possession of a fake I.D. or fictitious driver’s license. The article also discusses federal drug laws for possession of marijuana, roofies (Flunitrazepam), and nitrous oxide (whippits) with links to more information on federal and state penalties and punishments for drug and alcohol violations of the law.
Lawyers for Possession of Alcohol by a Person Under 21 in Tampa, FL
If you have been charged under Florida law with the criminal offense of possession of an alcoholic beverage while under the age of 21, contact an experienced attorney at the Sammis Law Firm. Whether you were formally arrested or given a “notice to appear,” find out more about your rights before you take any action.
Our lawyers are proud to defend high school and college students charged under Florida law with unlawful alcohol possession throughout the greater Tampa Bay area including Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Plant City and Tampa, Hillsborough County, Dade City and New Port Richey, Pasco County, Bartow, Polk County, Bradenton, Manatee County and Brooksville, Hernando County, Florida.
We also represent clients accused of providing alcohol to minors or buying alcohol for a person under 21 years old. Contact us to speak with a juvenile defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm representing those under 21 against accusations of possession or consumption of an alcoholic beverage.
Call (813) 250-0500.
This article was last updated on Friday, March 25, 2022.