Minor in Possession and Contempt of Court
Our law firm has experience representing students and young people in charges known as “minor in possession” of alcohol. It is a misdemeanor for a person under the age of 21 to possess or consume alcohol.
Over the past half-decade, some college towns -East Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Ann Arbor to name a few- have developed a cottage industry of ticketing the students that reside in their towns for MIPs; especially on football Saturdays. We are often retained to represent these students in distant and semi-distant jurisdictions based on our relationship with the student or the student’s parents here in Oakland County.
Yesterday, an interesting blog post on the subject of MIPs from one of the local criminal defense luminaries, Neil Rockind, caught our attention. Apparently, Neil was before one of our local district court judges on a violation of probation hearing.
We do not know, because his post does not say, how his client is alleged to have violated the conditions of his probation. In our experience representing young persons, however, it is usually due to a subsequent alcohol-related infraction; but it could be any new criminal activity.
He is too discreet to identify the judge in his blog, but we believe Rockind was in the Rochester Hills district court. Based on his description of the judge, we have a really good idea of who he appeared before at that VOP hearing; we too have stood before the same judge, petrified client at our side, on the same issue.
The issue at the VOP hearing is that when a judge discharges a person from their probation, they are no longer under the jurisdiction of the court, and the supervision of that court’s probation department over that individual ceases; that’s the law. Another aspect to this situation is that under the MIP statute, the district court judge does not have the power to incarcerate a person convicted of MIP.
In Rochester Hills, two of the three judges on that bench have developed a “work around” to that limit on their power. They simply find, usually at a violation of probation hearing, that the young person under their jurisdiction is in contempt of court. When a person is found in contempt of a court, the judge does have the power to address the contempt with a range of sanctions, including jail.
We have seen our good friend, local Rochester Hills attorney Jeff Quas, sitting patiently in this judge’s courtroom, waiting to challenge the constitutionality of this “work around”. Quas is made to wait until the end of the criminal call because, we think, the judge does not want his argument to be witnessed by the platoon of defense lawyers sitting in her courtroom.
As Neil mentions in his blog post, some of our colleagues have taken up the mantel on this issue, bringing such cases on appeal to the circuit court and to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The remedy, even when successful, is a “slap on the wrist” to the district court judge; it has not, however, changed their procedural conduct.
If you or a family member has been charged with an MIP or other misdemeanor, contact our law firm for a free consultation to discuss your options.