On December 22, Governor Rick Snyder in Michigan signed a new bill into law which decriminalizes underage drinking. Under the new law, someone charged with a first offense of underage drinking will be ticketed for a civil infraction, which will not go on their permanent record, instead of a criminal misdemeanor. The offender will then be required to pay a fine of $100.
This ticket can be given to any underage person who is purchasing, consuming, or in possession of alcohol. Repeat underage drinking offenses will remain misdemeanors, with a second offense being punishable with a $200 fine and up to 30 days in jail. Subsequent offenses are punishable with up to $500 in fines and up to 60 days in jail. The judge may alternatively assign community service, substance abuse treatment, and/or probationary guidelines.
The new law drastically decreases the penalty for first-time offenders of the underage drinking law. Senator Rick Jones, who sponsored the bill, said that the previous system was “clogging up our courts, putting kids in jail and jeopardizing the chances of some young people to get into college or get a job.”
In 2014, there were 9,300 cases of convicted underage drinking in Michigan, but only 365 for second offenses. The Michigan House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill 105 to 1 and the senate voted 36 to 2.
Earlier this year, in March, a similar bill was passed in Duxbury, MA, which allows police to fine underage drinkers $150 for the first offense and $300 for subsequent offenses in place of charging them for a criminal misdemeanor. The bill in Massachusetts was sponsored by the police force. On their website explaining their reasoning, they say that they “feel strongly as a department that we need a tool that allows the officer to provide that formal consequence more consistently without creating a permanent criminal record for an adolescent.”
In Washington, laws against underage drinking are more strict. If someone is under 21, they can be charged with being a Minor in Possession (MIP) or Minor in Consumption (MIC). Even if the offender does not have the alcohol on their person, if they are exhibiting signs of drunkenness or others testify against them, they may be charged with an MIP.
An MIP conviction in Washington, even if it is a first offense, can go on a permanent criminal record because it is considered a gross misdemeanor. Although rare, a conviction may be punished with up to $5,000 in fines and up to one year in jail. In addition, the offender's driver's license can be revoked for up to 90 days or, for a second offense, until they turn 21.
There are four exceptions in Washington to underage drinking laws. Someone under the age of 21 cannot be charged with underage drinking if the consumption is for religious or medical purposes, if they are on private non-alcohol selling premises and have parental permission, or if they are reporting a medical emergency for another underage drinker. This last exemption is designed to encourage young people to call for necessary and lifesaving medical help without fearing prosecution for underage drinking, which can be a deterrent.
If you or your child have been charged with an MIP or MIC in Washington, it is important to inform yourself of all the intricacies of the law and enlist the help of an experienced attorney. Call the Law Offices of Steve Karimi today at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.