“Kids will be kids” goes the old adage. Many of us find it difficult to describe the poor decision making, and sometimes outright stupidity, displayed by our youth.
Young adults lack the fully developed reasoning ability to understand the consequences of their actions, and therefore, make bad decisions. Now, thanks to the state legislature, one of those youthful indiscretions –imbibing alcoholic beverages- will no longer pack the same lingering legal punch.
Last month, Governor Snyder signed a bill reducing the penalty for a first-time minor in possession charge to a civil infraction from a criminal misdemeanor. Both the prior law and the new act call for a maximum $100 fine and allow the court to impose additional sanctions and supervision including random drug and alcohol testing, education or counseling, and community service.
As before, under its new civil infraction incarnation, jail is not a sentencing option for the judge. Under the old MIP law, however, a misdemeanor conviction carried the stigma of a criminal record requiring disclosure on job, college, and graduate school applications.
Judicial and law enforcement opinions are mixed as to the new law. Some believe that the criminal penalty acts as deterrent and the result of removing that deterrent will result in increased alcohol use among our youth.
Some judges note that while the misdemeanor penalty is onerous, diversion programs exist which allow otherwise law abiding minors to complete a term of probation and have the record cleared of the offense. The old law gave these judges the option to treat those minors who, at 16 or 17, had serious drinking problems differently than those who just “made a mistake”. The new law removes that option and treats all first time offenders the same by essentially letting them off with the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
Some prosecutors, on the other hand, agree with the new legislation as it still allows the court to supervise the minor and any resultant violations of probation are punished similarly under the new law as under the old. Allowing the minor a “get-out-of-jail-free” card will likely result in fewer challenges to the charges and less time dedicated plea arrangements and court time.
Municipalities should also receive a financial benefit from the new law. The new law results in the issuance of a citation without arrest. The Senate fiscal analysis of the bill determined that there were approximately 40,000 arrests for the purchase, consumption, or possession of alcohol by minors which resulted in approximately 9,300 convictions for a first-offense minor in possession. The Senate determined that eliminating the arrest and reducing the criminal penalty, local law enforcement and municipalities would receive a significant savings on incarceration and prosecution while keeping the revenue generated by the offense the same.
The new MIP law does not take effect until January 2018 due to concessions made in the House in order to get enough signatures to pass. In the interim, the law of the state for a first-time, minor-in-possession conviction remains a misdemeanor.
Now and in the future, help is out there. If you or a family member are charged with an MIP, contact a lawyer familiar with these developments.
Give our office a call to schedule a free consultation to find out what potential penalties you are facing and what options are available.