Michigan minors - at least those who sneak a drink from time to time - recently caught a break. In December, Governor Snyder signed bills that will reduce penalties for minors caught with alcohol starting in 2018.
The governor signed Public Acts 357 and 358 of 2016 which reduce penalties for first time offenders of the minor in possession (MIP) law from a misdemeanor to a state civil infraction. In other words, a first time MIP offense will now be more like a traffic ticket than a criminal offense. However, a first time offender will still face a $100 fine, plus the possibility of community service and substance abuse classes. The current misdemeanor charge, which will remain in effect until December 31, 2017, carries a $100 fine and up to 90 days in jail, plus the possibility of community service and substance abuse classes.
Under the new law, a second MIP offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine, and a third offense would result in a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. A third offense could also result in a revocation of the minor’s driver’s license.
MIP violations impact thousands of Michigan minors every year. According to the Detroit Free Press, “[f]rom 2009 to 2013, the latest statistics available from the Michigan State Police, some 38,499 people under age 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.”
While municipalities across Michigan have until December to prepare to enforce the new MIP law, they should begin thinking about amending ordinances to reflect the new penalties and enforcement procedures.
The practical considerations not addressed by the new law are yet to be determined. For example, it is unclear how a court will handle civil infraction citations when a judge orders probation-type sentences such as community service or substance abuse counseling, since civil infraction penalties are generally limited to fines, or how law enforcement will track the number of offenses a minor previously received.