Bill would loosen minor in possession penalties

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Statistics from Spartan Smart Program

Statistics from Spartan Smart Program

By Kelly Cullen
Entirely East Lansing

Over the past year, East Lansing has issued 387 citations to minors for possession of alcohol.

Minor in Possession (MIP) is the criminal charge is a misdemeanor for anyone caught with alcohol under the age of 21. State Sen. Rick Jones, R- Party, 24th District, proposed a bill to change the current Michigan law for MIPs.

“It’s time to re-evaluate the situation,” said Jones. “Minor in Possessions are stopping young people from getting scholarships, getting into college and harming future employment placement.”

The proposed bill would start by offering two “warnings” for young adults that would serve as a civil fine, rather than a misdemeanor charge.

Jones said the first MIP offense would cost $100 and the second would be $200.

“If you get caught a third time, you would be charged a misdemeanor. “Along with the charge, a drinking program would be required as the problem would need to be addressed appropriately.”

In Michigan today, the police enforce this law in three different ways. The first is if someone under 21 is caught with possession of alcohol, next is a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) to see if the BAC is over 0.2. Lastly, if an underage person admits to consuming alcohol.

“We are not in the business to have opinions one way or another,” said East Lansing police Lt. Steve Gonzalez. “We strive to be equal and objective.”

Prior to going to the Legislature, Jones served as the Eaton County Sheriff and had 31 years of experience working with the sheriff’s department.

“I have a lot of experience with the problem of underage drinking,” said Jones. “I know from this experience that having a misdemeanor doesn’t deter bad behavior.”

Citations have slowly decreased since 2005 when 1,141 MIP tickets were given out. In 2014, 387 MIP tickets were recorded.

“I think there’s a lot of reason for that,” said Gonzalez. “Primarily the university, city and police departments have been very proactive educating people on the dangers in binge drinking.”

A Michigan State course serves as an alcohol education class for students who have received an MIP.

This course is called Spartan Smart that costs $55 for the two sessions, ATOD (Alcohol and Other Drug) Health Education Associate Emily Young said. Here, students can learn the effects of alcohol and participate in an active environment.

“The class is guided by a belief that students are capable of making wise, well-informed decisions about alcohol and drugs when provided the information, education and support necessary to do so,” said Young.

Pam Gillespie, East Lansing resident and mother says the bill is a very smart move.

“While I am a parent and don’t condone underage drinking, I also think it’s unfair to potentially ruin a young person’s future with the current state of the MIP law,” said Gillespie.

Many parents told Jones that the risk of being breathalyzed and getting an MIP has driven students to use marijuana instead.

“I think it’s terrible that we are potentially pushing people to do drugs,” said Jones.

Attorney Mike Nichols has been involved in multiple cases involving MIPs in East Lansing and has a law firm in Michigan, Nichols Lawyers.

“Police officers give MIPs out like candy,” said Nichols. “It’s so easy for them to spot someone who isn’t 21, and they immediately try to intimidate these young targets.”

Nichols encourages people to refuse a breathalyzer and call a lawyer. In the fall, Nichols went to trial where a client refused a breathalyzer and the officer didn’t have any other quality evidence of bodily alcohol content.

Nichols said his client was found not guilty.

“I encourage people to use common sense if they’re going to test the limits,” said Nichols. “And most of all, to be safe.”

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