Minor in Possession or MIP
Minor in Possession or MIP is shorthand for RCW 66.44.270, Furnishing liquor to minors–Possession, use–Penalties–Exhibition of effects, and it is probably the most commonly charged crime in the City of Bellingham, particularly when WWU is in session. But for a common crime, it’s pretty complicated.
There are 3 ways a person can commit MIP: 1) by selling, giving, or otherwise supplying liquor to any person under the age of twenty-one years or permitting any person under that age to consume liquor on his or her premises or on any premises under his or her control; 2) by being under the age of twenty-one years and possessing, consuming, or otherwise acquiring any liquor; or 3) by, while under the age of twenty-one years, being in a public place, or in a motor vehicle in a public place, while exhibiting the effects of having consumed liquor. MIP is a Gross Misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of 364 days in jail and $5,000.00 fine, although most convictions don’t result in any jail time at all.
So there are a variety of ways a person can be charged with MIP. A person who throws a party and supplies beer to underage party goers could be charged with MIP. A person under the age of 21 could be charged with MIP by having alcohol in their actual or constructive possession (dominion and control). Or a person could be charged with MIP by having the odor of alcohol on their breath and in some other way exhibiting the effects of having consumed alcohol while in a public place or a motor vehicle in a public place.
There are several defenses available to a person charged with MIP. Were you in a “public place”? While a street or park is likely to be considered a “public place”, inside of a house, in a backyard or even a front porch is arguably not a “public place”. For purposes of the statute. There is also the question of whether there is sufficient evidence of “exhibiting effects” other than odor of alcohol, whether the person truly exercised “dominion and control” over the alcohol or was merely nearby and whether the police had sufficient reasonable suspicion to seize or probable cause to get a search warrant.
Like any contact with law enforcement, if you are approached and fear being charged with MIP, always be polite and respectful. BUT, do not answer any questions or submit to any tests. I have been practicing in Bellingham for nearly a decade and have handled dozens of MIPs with great results. Please call or email me for a free consultation by phone or at my office.