Say that police catch your underage son or daughter in possession of alcohol in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are in trouble. So are you, if you gave them the alcohol – right? Wrong.

Under California law, a minor in possession of alcohol is not always in violation of the law. You may be in the clear, too.

When underage possession is illegal – and the consequences

Underage possession of alcohol is a misdemeanor. It covers a person younger than 21 who is on a street or highway, in a public place or any place open to the public.

Your child does not have to be holding a container of alcohol to be in possession. The law still applies if she or he puts the container down or shares a drink with someone.

First-time offenders face a $250 fine and/or 24 to 32 hours of community service. That service likely will be in the areas of alcohol or drug treatment or at the county coroner’s office.

When underage possession is legal

The law does not apply when the minor is in a private home. Possession also is not illegal when minors deliver alcohol under instruction:

  • From their parent or another responsible adult relative
  • From an adult named by their parent or legal guardian
  • During their employment

Other defenses include:

  • The alcohol not belonging to the underage person
  • Police discovering the alcohol during an illegal search and seizure
  • The minor called 911 to summon medical attention for themselves or another minor

When your child is facing charges

While the law can work in your favor, it can be confusing. There are exceptions. Social gatherings that include 10 or more minors or that are not supervised by an adult can be illegal.

You want to shield your child from legal trouble, which is understandable. Protect their rights, and help them learn a valuable life lesson.