Bill would change underage drinking from criminal to civil charge

A bill to decriminalize underage drinking -- for the first offense -- is making progress in the state legislature.

LANSING, MICH. - Underage drinkers would get a pass on criminal charges the first time they're caught by police under a bill that unanimously passed the House Criminal Justice committee Tuesday.

Under the legislation, which already passed the state Senate in March, a first minor in possession of alcohol offense would become a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine, instead of the current misdemeanor charge which carries a fine and up to 90 days in jail.

More than 6,000 minors -- many of them in college towns -- got popped for trying to buy or consume alcohol in 2013 and were charged with misdemeanors for their youthful indiscretions, according to statistics from the Michigan State Police.

The second offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a $200 fine. A third offense would carry a sentence of up to 60 days and a $500 fine and possible revocation of the offender’s driver’s license.

State Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon, asked: "Is it possible that making a first offense a citation will just delay a minor from taking the offense seriously?"

Jessica Hammond, legislative aid to the bill's sponsor Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said there is the ability to require alcohol counseling with a citation.

From 2009-13, the latest statistics available from the Michigan State Police, 38,499 people under 21 were arrested for some sort of minor in possession charge. And counties with college towns racked up some of the biggest numbers, including: Ingham County, home of Michigan State University with 863 citations in 2013; Washtenaw County, home to the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, with 401 MIP charges; and Isabella County, home of Central Michigan University, with 233 charges.

The bills -- SB 332-333 -- now move to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Detroit Free Press


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