Minors and Alcohol
The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that there is a rational basis to discriminate between 18- to 20-year-olds and those 21 and over, as it relates to alcohol use and possession, and thus RCW 66.44.270 endures. This statute criminalizes most instances of Furnishing Alcohol to Minors (or Premises for Consuming Alcohol), Minor in Possession and Minor in Consumption of Alcohol. The statute also provides for certain activities to not be punishable as a crime.
Furnishing Alcohol to Minors (or Premises for Consuming Alcohol)
The furnishing, sale, giving or any other supplying of liquor to a person under the age of 21 is punishable as a gross misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is 364 days in jail and/or a $5000 fine, although there is no minimum sentence for fine or jail required.
It is likewise punishable as a gross misdemeanor to permit another person under 21 to consume liquor on his or her premises, or premises under his or her control. “Premises” includes real property, houses, buildings and other structures, and motor vehicles and watercraft.
To “permit” means more than mere indifference. It typically requires an active understanding and agreement by the party to be charged.
Minor in Consumption
It is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years to be in a public place, or to be in a motor vehicle in a public place, while exhibiting the effects of having consumed liquor.
“Consume” is defined by statute as the putting of liquor to any use, whether by drinking or otherwise. Using alcohol in cooking is considered “consuming alcohol.”
“Exhibiting the effects of having consumed liquor” means that a person has the odor of liquor on his or her breath and either, 1) is in possession of or close proximity to a container that has or recently had liquor in it, or 2) by speech, manner, appearance, behavior, lack of coordination or otherwise, exhibits that he or she is under the influence of liquor.
A charge of Minor in Consumption is punishable as a Gross Misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is 364 days in jail and/or a $5000 fine, although there is no minimum sentence for fine or jail required.
Minor in Possession
It is similarly a gross misdemeanor for a person under the age of 21 to possess or otherwise acquire alcohol.
Possession does not need to be “actual possession.” Courts have found “constructive possession” sufficient where a minor knows of alcohol’s presence, the alcohol is immediately accessible and the minor exercises dominion or control over it. Additionally, possession does not need to be exclusive, so two or more minors may be said to possess the same alcohol.
When the Statute Does Not Apply
The sections of RCW 66.44.270 criminalizing the Furnishing of Alcohol (or Premises) and Minor in Possession of Alcohol do not apply when alcohol is given to the minor by a parent or guardian, and the alcohol is possessed or consumed in that parent or guardian’s presence. However, this does not permit the providing of alcohol, or possession of alcohol, in places such as restaurants.
In all cases, the statute prohibiting possession, consumption or furnishing alcohol (or premises) does not apply for alcohol used for medicinal purposes. The statute also is inapplicable for alcohol used in religious services, provided the amount used is the minimal amount necessary.
Medical Assistance – Statute Inapplicable
In certain instances, minors under 21 may not be prosecuted for possession or consumption (not in public places) offenses if seeking medical help for someone experiencing alcohol poisoning, or if the person under the age of 21 needs medical help for alcohol poisoning.
Ashbach Law Offices, LLC, aggressively represents clients throughout the Washington I-5 corridor, covering Skagit, Snohomish, King and Whatcom Counties. Regular courts of practice include, but are not limited to, Anacortes, Arlington, Bellevue, Bellingham, Blaine, Burlington, Edmonds, Everett, Issaquah, Lynnwood, Marysville, Monroe, Mount Vernon, Mountlake Terrance, Redmond, Seattle, Sedro Woolley and Shoreline.