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My daughter just turned 19 today. She and her boyfriend went to Canada, where the legal drinking age in some provinces is 19. She just asked me "Could I get in trouble for being intoxicated, if we get pulled over, after we cross the border back into the US"? Mind you she wasn't driving. I didn't have an answer for her. I actually thought it was a valid question.

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    I don't think a minor who's found intoxicated in the US after drinking in the US would get in trouble either, would they? – Flimzy Oct 31 '15 at 8:46
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    It would likely depend on the wording of the law in the state in which she got caught. – user13044 Oct 31 '15 at 10:28
  • @Flimzy - being a minor and being of legal drinking age are two different laws and not always the same age. In many states you become an adult at 18, but can't drink until you are 20 or 21. – user13044 Oct 31 '15 at 10:30
  • @Tom the word "minor" is often used to refer to someone over 18 but below 21, too (might be a regional thing, dunno, but here in Washington NO MINORS signs in bars mean "nobody under 21") – Urbana Oct 31 '15 at 10:34
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It depends on which US state she is returning to and yes, she may get in trouble. There are US states at the Canadian border not only prohibiting sales, purchase, possession or consumption of alcohol to or by underage persons, but also strictly prohibiting the state of actually being intoxicated, e.g. Idaho, Michigan and New Hampshire. Other states have statutes with similar effect, e.g. prohibiting recent consumption (North Dakota) or exhibiting the effects of having consumed alcohol (Washington).

You can find further details regarding underage drinking in state laws in NIAAA's Alcohol Policy Information System.


Edit: I thought it would be enough to link to a government organization like NIAAA, where the applicable laws are both quoted or summarized and also referenced. Since Lemuel Gulliver still disputes the existence of such laws in Idaho and North Dakota in his answer, here are the relevant quotes.

Idaho Statute 23-949:

It is unlawful for any person under the age of twenty-one (21) years to ... possess ... beer, wine or other alcoholic liquor. For purposes of this section, a person shall also be deemed to "possess" alcohol that has been consumed by the person, without regard to the place of consumption.

North Dakota Century Code 5-01-08(1):

An individual under twenty-one years of age may not ... consume or have recently consumed ... [or] be under the influence of ... an alcoholic beverage.

2

I could not find the statutes which Tor-Einar Jarnbjo is referring to in his answer. As far as I know it is only illegal in Idaho for a minor to drive under the influence of alcohol. For North Dakota I reviewed the code sections 5-02-06 and 5-01-08(1) and did not find any prohibition for a minor to merely be intoxicated with alcohol.

In general, all states outlaw "public drunkeness" whether the person is a minor or not, so if you fall afoul of that it does not matter your age.

A border guard will not enforce state laws, they are federal agents.

In general, simply being drunk in a private place is not illegal. If you want a specific answer you must specify the STATE in which you will be and the situation. Are we in a bus? in a car? in a plane? walking on the road? You need to specify the circumstances and the reason why you would be stopped. For example, if a car is stopped for speeding, the police have no right to question the passengers in the vehicle or test them for alcohol regardless of whether they are minors or not.

  • You could have found both quotes from and references to the relevant laws or statutes if you had followed the link to NIAAA, which I already gave in my answer. It is worth to notice that it is neither necessary to be obviously drunk to violate the ID or ND state laws, nor is there any exceptions for private or religious settings. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 1 '15 at 15:03
  • Well the NIAA summary says about Idaho "Internal possession is not explicitly prohibited" confirming my analysis. The North Dakota statute makes it illegal for a minor to be under the influence of alcohol but only when it is consumed inside the state. Alcohol consumed outside the state is not actionable. – Lemuel Gulliver Nov 1 '15 at 16:57
  • Your objections do not make sense and I am not sure if you understand either what I am writing, the NIAAA summary, nor the statute texts. NIAAA is completely right, that Idaho does not explicitely prohibit internal possession, but ND law considers 'alcohol that has been consumed by the person' to be in 'possession'. For all practical purposes, the consequences are exactly the same. Furthermore, I have absolutely no idea how you interpret the ND law to come to the conclusion that being under the influence of alcohol is allowed if the alcohol is consumed outside the state. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 1 '15 at 17:26
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo I read the statute, something you obviously have not done. The statute specifically says that the violation (for intoxication) is only an offense in the county in which the CONSUMPTION occurred. This means the prosecution has to PROVE that alcohol was consumed in a specific county in ND and a case can only be brought against the minor in that specific county. – Lemuel Gulliver Nov 1 '15 at 20:54
  • If you claim so, then you can probably quote the relevant statement and tell exactly in which section of statute 5-01-08, or wherever else you have found that. To disprove your last sentence right away, section 5-01-08(5) says: "The offense of consumption occurs in the county ... where the offender is arrested." There is obviously no need for the prosecution to PROVE (I don't know why you capitalized that word, but if it's important, I can do so as well) where the alcohol was actually consumed. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 1 '15 at 21:19
1

There is a difference between being arrested and being convicted of a crime. If a US police officer observed a drunken 19 year old, they might choose to arrest that person, suspecting them of having drunk under age. If the drunken teen blurted out "no, I drank in CANADA! It's totally fine!" I suspect the officer would pay little or no attention to it, though they might make a note of in in the arrest notes.

It's possible that later, in the police station, this protestation would have the desired effect and the teen would be released. It might not, and could be raised later at a trial, where evidence of having been in Canada would be admissible. You might even end up with the case dismissed.

But is that really a good outcome? Getting arrested is not very pleasant. Only spending a little time in the lockup, or ending up not getting a criminal record, isn't much of a consolation prize. "Getting in trouble" is not a simple as not doing anything illegal. You can have an unpleasant interaction with authority even if there's no reason to suspect you've done anything wrong. Providing evidence that many officers would see as clear evidence of a crime is foolhardy.

  • If a US police officer observed a drunken 19 year old, they might choose to arrest that person -- Are there any jurisdictions where someone can be arrested for appearing drunken and being younger than the drinking age (as opposed to jurisdictions where being drunk in public is illegal at any age)? I really think that's the crux of the question. – Flimzy Oct 31 '15 at 15:58
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    @Flimzy There are some US states with a prohibition of 'internal possession' of alcohol or exhibiting the effects of having consumed alcohol by underage persons. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 31 '15 at 18:02
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    Additionally, pretty much all states have laws that allow law enforcement agencies to detain any person, minor or otherwise, if they believe that such a detention would serve to protect the welfare of the person concerned. Hence they may well choose to arrest (detain) the drunken 19 year old on the pretext that they have concerns for their wellbeing. And, by the way, such laws exist in many other countries, too. – Aleks G Oct 31 '15 at 19:32
  • @AleksG some sources would be nice. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preventive_detention doesn't look like that. info.sfcriminallawspecialist.com/bid/81608/… this lawyer blog post says warrantless arrests can only happen if a crime is committed in the officer's presence or there's probable cause of a felony. What you said, on the other hand, sounds like something straight out of a Stalinist state. – chx Nov 1 '15 at 0:32
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    Look, it's not illegal to be covered in blood - fake blood, animal blood from a store, your own because you had a nosebleed. But if a cop saw you out late an night with bloody hands and a blood covered shirt, they might take you in for questioning. Yeah, they'd release you quick enough. But it's rather pointless to open yourself to that possibility. Same thing with being drunk in another country and needing to get back across the border and back to your home - it's a risk I wouldn't recommend anyone take, even if I was convinced they ran no risk of actually being convicted of anything. – Kate Gregory Nov 1 '15 at 21:54

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