In short, no and yes.
There are certain very specific situations in which there is an affirmative defense to a person under the age of 21 in Colorado drinking or possessing alcohol. This does not mean that the person is immune from prosecution, but he or she would have an affirmative defense at a trial. Outside of these situations, underage possession or consumption is a strict liability offense. C.R.S. 18-13-122(2)(b)(I).
While all states prohibit underage alcohol consumption, Colorado’s five exceptions are second highest to New Jersey’s six exceptions. In contrast, Idaho has zero exceptions to its prohibition against underage drinking. We explore Colorado’s exceptions below.
5 Affirmative Defenses to Underage Drinking in Colorado
These exceptions are promulgated within Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-13-122, the same section that prohibits underage drinking. According to these statutes, a person under the age of 21 may consume alcohol…
- On private property (that is, where a person habitually resides and NOT a place of business) with the consent of a parent or guardian in the parent’s presence. In other words, that small glass of wine a teenager is given by a parent on Thanksgiving is completely fine, as long as the property owner AND the parent consent and the parent is present during the consumption. It is implied that the child does not drive afterward.
- For medical or hygienic purposes. This exception (C.R.S. 18-13-122(5)(b)) also includes “confectionaries” or baked goods that happen to have alcohol in them (though these baked goods must also comply with regulations first).
- For educational purposes. Students in college can taste alcohol for a class in the restaurant industry under the supervision of an accredited instructor, but the student must spit out the alcohol after tasting.
- For religious purposes, such as Mass at a Catholic church. This is protected speech pursuant to the 1st Amendment.
- When reporting another minor in need of medical assistance. This is the most complicated exception and requires a showing of the following: one underage person calls 911 to report another underage person in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption, provides his or her name to the 911 operator, was the first to make a 911 report, remains on scene until assistance arrives, and cooperates with medical or law enforcement as they arrive. This Good Samaritan defense is intended to encourage young people to call 911 for medical help if necessary, rather than let a friend die or become dangerously ill out of fear of the legal consequences.
Penalties for Underage Drinking
If a young person cannot use any of the five affirmative defenses, he or she has real exposure for a conviction or adjudication, if under the age of 18. If convicted or adjudicated, first-time offenders will receive a fine of up to $100, substance abuse treatment, or both. Did we mention that the alcohol treatment program must be paid for by the defendant? A first offense can also include the collateral consequence of losing a driver’s license for 90 days.
Additional offenses involve mandatory fines, court-ordered treatment, community service, and loss of a driver’s license for even longer – up to a year.
If you or someone you know has a child who has been charged for underage drinking, call our team of attorneys at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C., at (719) 401-0585. We can talk about your case and discuss your options. We understand these situation and do not believe that a single mistake should ruin a teenager’s future.