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Proposed Legislation Offers Break to Underage Drinkers

Mark Mandell, Esq.

Under a bill passed through the House Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday, underage drinkers would get a pass on criminal charges for their first offense.

Instead of the current misdemeanor charge that carries a fine and up to 90 days in jail, the new rule would become a civil infraction, punishable by simply a $100 fine. After the first offense, the charges would then become misdemeanors punishable by jail time and increased fines.

Although it would benefit all minors caught consuming or purchasing alcohol underage, the bill would have a drastic impact on college towns. From 2009-2013, there were 38,499 individuals under 21 arrested for minor in possession. Not surprisingly, Ingham County (home of Michigan State University) and Washtenaw County (home of The University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University), lead the way in citations.

Like all bills, there are legislators for and against. State Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright has questioned whether making a first offense a citation will just delay a minor from taking the offense seriously. The opposition notes the failure of civil infractions for underage drinking between the years of 1978 and 1995. Bruce Timmons, a former legislative staffer, states, "...that the civil fine sanction was ineffective and unenforceable... Many ticketed for underage drinking thumbed their nose at the citation and at the court."

Those in support of the bill have several reasons for their backing. For one, a misdemeanor MIP (Minor in Possession) charge is harsh for young individuals. People do not believe that this misdemeanor, which could go on a person's criminal record, is a harmful enough crime to prevent children from getting into schools they would like to or getting their dream jobs. Also, some individuals, including Sen. Rick Jones, believe these harsh consequences are convincing kids to use drugs, as they cannot be tested in breathalyzers and yield more lenient punishments.

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