Ask The Lawyer
“What is the correct law on drinking when it comes to teens?”
Question: I work where I hear teens talking a lot. What they say about alcohol is confusing. The teens that I have heard talking have said everything from it’s okay for them to drink as long as an adult buys the alcohol to they can’t get arrested for driving while intoxicated if they don’t have an open container in their vehicle. None of that sounds right to me. What is the correct law on drinking when it comes to teens?
Answer: The law on drinking alcoholic beverages by a minor, purchasing alcohol by a minor, serving a minor alcohol or purchasing alcohol for a minor is governed by Chapter 106 of the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code (AB Code). It is not uncommon for teens, or people for that matter, to misunderstand what the laws governing alcohol state, especially as they relate to minors. One reason is because Texas allows minors to consume alcohol under certain circumstances, when other states do not. The right to purchase alcohol is achieved when a person attains the age of 21, and if that meant no purchasing, drinking or serving, then there would probably be no area for ambiguity. That is not the case; however, so ambiguity and misunderstanding is common.
Age 21 relates to the age that a person has the “right” to purchase alcohol, and that’s about it. A person may work in an environment that serves alcohol at age 16, and serve alcohol at age 18, and may consume alcohol whenever they fit within the exception to the prohibition against minors consuming alcohol. For the purpose of the AB Code, a minor is any person who is under the age of 21.
A minor may not possess an alcoholic beverage, except while in the course and scope of the minor’s employment and the employment is not prohibited by the AB Code; if the minor is in the visible presence of an adult parent, guardian, spouse, or other adult to whom he had been committed by court; or if the minor is under the immediate supervision of a commissioned peace officer engaged in enforcing the provisions of the AB Code.
According to the AB Code, the term “possession” has the same meaning as that found in Section 1.07(a)(39) of the Texas Penal Code. The minor-in-possession offense can be proven if the minor is in actual control of the alcoholic beverage by physical contact or by establishing an “affirmative link” between the alcoholic beverage and the minor.
A minor is prohibited from purchasing alcohol and commits an offense if the minor purchases an alcoholic beverage. The exception is if the minor purchases an alcoholic beverage under the immediate supervision of a commissioned peace officer engaged in enforcing the provisions of the AB Code. That literally means that a peace officer has engaged the minor to purchase alcohol for the purpose of finding out if a “seller” of alcohol is violating the law by selling to a minor. It is also a violation of the law if a minor tries, but fails, to purchase alcoholic beverages.
Where people have a great deal of misunderstanding is when a minor may permissibly consume alcohol. There is no mistake that a minor may never purchase alcohol (except under the direction of a peace officer), so it seems counter-intuitive that a minor may never consume alcohol, but a minor may. A minor commits an offense if the minor consumes an alcoholic beverage unless the alcoholic beverage was consumed in the visible presence of the minor’s adult parent, guardian, or spouse.
Where many minors get into trouble is when attending a party or gathering where alcohol is present. Perhaps some individuals at the party are age 21 and older and may freely drink. The minor at that gathering may misunderstand that they are not allowed by law to drink because adults are present. The adult must be that minor’s parent, legal guardian or spouse. It seems strange that a minor may consume alcohol because they happen to be married. Of course, their spouse must be age 21 or older.
If a married couple is visiting a restaurant or bar in Texas and one of them is over the age of 21 and the other is under the age of 21, the older must be the one to purchase the alcoholic beverage. Many establishments that sell alcoholic beverages require proof of the marriage because of the laws that affect their license if they allow a minor to consume or purchase alcohol.
A minor may never drink and drive in Texas. Texas has a zero tolerance law. That means that a minor commits an offense if they operate a motor vehicle in a public place while having a detectable amount of alcohol in the minor’s system. The offense has occurred because the minor has alcohol in their system and they are driving. Whether or not any container of alcohol, open or closed, is in the vehicle with the minor is irrelevant to “if” the offense has been committed.
Another twist in Texas law states that a person commits an offense if the person possesses an open container or consumes an alcoholic beverage on a public street, public alley, or public sidewalk within 1,000 feet of the property line of a facility that is a public or private school that provides all or any part of kindergarten through twelfth grade.
This article is meant for informational purposes only and not as a substitute for sound legal advice. Forward questions to Ask the Lawyer to firstname.lastname@example.org.