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What Are The Rules For Legal Underage Drinking In Colorado?

The legal drinking age in the United States has been 21 years old for decades. However, certain specific exceptions enable those under that age to consume alcoholic beverages legally. These exceptions could come into play at family gatherings or parties on private property. It is a given that underage drinkers should not operate a motorized vehicle – those who do could face DUI or underage DUI. However, there are some exceptions in which the state of Colorado will not press charges related to underage drinking.

The Exceptions

According to the drinking laws in Colorado, there are a few exemptions in which underage drinking is legal. These are a few typical circumstances that allow for underage drinking:

  • Private property: Generally speaking, the owner of the home or property must agree to the consumption of alcohol by underage drinkers. Moreover, the parent of the underage person must also consent to their child’s consumption of alcohol.
  • Food: The food containing alcohol must comply with applicable regulations, and then it can be consumed by someone under 21.
  • Medical or hygienic purposes: These are also exempt.
  • Educational reasons: This can involve a server taking instruction from an expert or a student in a classroom setting. In either case, they must spit out the liquid after tasting it.
  • Religious purposes: Protected as religious freedom, consuming wine blessed by a priest during Catholic Eucharist is a common example.
  • Reporting another minor in need of medical help: This involves not prosecuting underage Samaritans who call 911 to request medical assistance for someone in distress or injured. The caller must stay at the scene and cooperate with law enforcement.

The Penalties For Illegal Drinking

Charges related to underage drinking are very problematic for young people and can involve serious civil and criminal penalties. The issue becomes a life-changing event when they face driving under the influence (DUI), which is when your blood alcohol content (BAC) is between .05 and .08, or driving while ability impaired (DWAI), which is a lesser offense in which your BAC is below .05. There may also be long-term issues that affect college acceptance, financial aid, insurance rates, job prospects and your criminal record. As of 2023, the penalties are:

  • Minor in possession or consumption of alcohol: A fine of up to $250 and driver’s license revocation for up to three months
  • Underage drinking and driving: A fine of $100, three months’ license revocation, 24 hours of community service and mandatory drug and alcohol counseling
  • Driving while ability impaired: Fines between $200 and $500, up to 180 days in jail and up to 48 hours of community service
  • Driving under the influence: Fines of $600 to $1,000, up to one year in jail, up to 96 hours of community service and license revocation of nine months

Keep in mind that these penalties are for only a first conviction. A subsequent charge poses even more severe consequences.

Can I Be Charged With Providing Alcohol To Minors?

Furnishing alcohol to minors is a serious charge. Colorado courts prosecute it very seriously. The offense involves selling, serving, trading or obtaining alcohol for anyone under the legal drinking age of 21. Private parties that result in underage drinking can result in charges of furnishing alcohol to a minor. Even if you didn’t have a problem with a minor or minors in your home consuming alcohol, the state can still prosecute you if the child’s parents did not consent. The charge is a class 2 misdemeanor that involves six to 18 months of jail time and a fine between $500 and $5,000.

How Do I Defend An Underage Drinking Charge?

Fortunately, there is a range of defenses available when it comes to underage drinking. Some of the most common include:

  • You did not realize the beverage had alcohol in it.
  • You had your parents’ permission.
  • The arresting officer administered the breath test incorrectly.
  • The breath testing device did not function properly.
  • The arresting officer violated your rights while arresting you.

As you can see, with the severe consequences attached to underage drinking, it is crucial to mount a strong criminal defense.