University of Arizona Students and Common Alcohol Crimes: 2023 update

In Arizona, if you are under 21 you basically can’t legally drink.   Any amount of alcohol in your system with few exceptions, nearly always  no matter where you are and what you are doing,  is  illegal.  In other words, if you are under 21, and have a sip of beer, it is presumptively an Arizona crime. ARS § 4-244.41,  I know that sounds crazy but it’s true.  And the local police do charge these cases.

 Plus, if you are living in the dorms or walking around  the University of Arizona campus late at night, unfortunately you are at special risk.  And if you are driving or sitting behind the wheel of an automobile  after consuming any amount of alcohol in Arizona,  if  you are under-age,  you are at even more risk.

Today we discuss  the way University of Arizona Students often get charged   with common underage alcohol crimes—two different crimes are what we are going to focus on here: ARS §4-244.41(underage consumption)  & ARS §4-244.34 (underage consumption while driving) . 

Minor in Possession (consumption): ARS §4-244.31

On a campus with nearly forty-thousand students, and a huge drinking and partying culture,  the crime of  “ minor in possession of alcohol “—abbreviated by the police as “MIP” is a crime investigated or charged multiple times every single night on or near the University of Arizona Camps.   “Possession”  means  having any level of alcohol in your body.

Walking around on Campus 

We see a lot of cases where the University Arizona Police stop younger students simply walking on or near campus late at night, often, in our view, with thin or dubious legal cause.  Police will approach the student,  demand identification, and then variably ask them if they’ve been drinking.  Police will often ask the student to take a breath test.   Even where the student doesn’t admit to drinking, and refuses a breath test, police may try to establish the crime with purported “observations”—claiming things like they “smell” alcohol on the person’s breath, the person had “slurred” speech, the person was “unsteady on their feet.” 

The Dorms

Second, we see a huge number of cases, unfortunately, where a resident assistant (RA) in the dorms calls the University Police (claiming “noise” most commonly),  if they think there is something nefarious going on  in  your  dorm room.   Although in theory you have some rights to privacy in your own  dorm room, because after all it is your “home,”   in reality at least in our experience,  University Police surprisingly often gain entry into our client  dorm rooms and recover large amounts of alcohol, and confront drinking students.   They press the dorm room occupants  for confessions, and extract consent to search the room. 

The Law

Pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes §4-244.41 it is illegal “[f]or a person who is under  twenty-one years of ae to have in a person’s body any spirituous liquor.”  It is a defense, however, if the  there is  proof that it was part of a religious exercise or for a medical purpose. See ARS §4-244.41(a)-(b).

Dean’s Office

 In addition to criminal charges, and even if there are no charges or prosecution is deferred, if the arresting agency is University of Arizona Police Department, or the matter has happened on campus,  there will almost always be a separate administrative disciplinary referral to the University of Arizona Dean of Student’s Office.   

Expected And Common Resolution for First Offenses: Diversion

Fortunately, most first-offense Minor In Possession cases in and around the University of Arizona don’t wind up as  criminal convictions or result in suspensions or academic probation   Both the prosecutor and the Dean of Students adjudicators are understanding and give Students a robust  opportunity to earn a dismissal or otherwise redeem themselves through something called “diversion”

“Diversion” is simply a program administered either by the prosecutors or the University of Arizona Dean of Students Office. The student cited for Minor in Possession of alcohol takes some classes, writes a paper, pays a fine or fee, and the cases are closed.  This may happen without the intervention of an attorney. 


Finally, we see too far too many cases where a young  erson under  twenty-one years of age is stopped  while driving an automobile on or near campus,  stopped by either the Tucson Police Department or the University of Arizona and arrested for a second crime.   And they get arrested even though they are not DUI. 

Maybe what most surprising about Arizona underage alcohol law is  when an underage person is driving an automobile , they don’t need to be impaired, or be over the “legal limit” of 0.08 to be charged and convicted of a crime.  

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In Arizona it is a special crime,  to have any  amount of alcohol in your system if you are driving and under  twenty-one years.     See ARS 4-244.34 (“For a person who is under twenty-one years of age to drive or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while there is any spirituous liquor in the person’s body”). The crime is a “class one misdemeanor.”  See ARS §4-246(B).  Unlike simple Minor in Possession cases, these Minor in Possession of Driving cases, under  §4-244.34 do not always easily wind up as dismissals. And unlike over 21 DUI, the underage drinking and driving consequences include a mandatory suspension. 

Key Take Aways

Tens of thousands of students at University of Arizona are under  twenty-one, and attend an institution renowned for it’s partying culture.  We see too many cases where young people are exposed to being charged with crimes, and called into the Dean of Students Office for  alcohol on campus.  These cases, at least the non-driving minor in possession of cases depending on the circumstances may thankfully be resolved, at the discretion of the prosecutor without conviction.  Minor drinking and driving cases, in contrast, aren’t normally so easily resolved.

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