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New law increases MIP penalties

BY FARAYHA ARRINE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 14, 2004

Weekends for students may never be the same with the new
penalties for underage drinkers that Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed
into law this week.

Now, minors in possession of alcohol who violate their probation
from an MIP offense face up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine
under the new law. Subsequent offenses can lead to a jail sentence
of up to 60 days and a $500 fine.

Minors in possession include anyone between the ages of 17 and
20 who is caught by a police officer consuming alcohol or with a
blood alcohol level more than 0.02.

“Jail can only be used as a last resort for those who
violate the conditions of probation,” said Sherry Sofia,
chief of staff for state Sen. Tom George (R-Kalamazoo), who
proposed the bill last year.

In a written statement, George said minors often will only
complete court-ordered drug and alcohol treatment programs if some
punishment exists for noncompliant offenders.

“Substance abuse among minors is a real problem,” he
said. “Altering a course of substance abuse among the young
can be a life-saving measure that ultimately will reduce the cost
to society and relieve suffering.”

But the law does show leniency to those who successfully
complete their probationary period. If a minor convicted of an MIP
violation complies with the rules of his probation, the MIP is
cleared from the minor’s record and he does not receive a
misdemeanor, as he would have under the old state law. If the minor
receives a subsequent charge, it is considered to be his first
one.

Sofia added it is important to note that juveniles below the age
of 17 still will not face jail time under this provision. The law
was not, however, specifically pushed through with college campuses
in mind, she said. Instead, legislators felt this law would be the
only way to limit underage drinking, she said.

“There were some instances that occurred around the state
with underage drinking, and there was nothing that could be done
about it,” Sofia said. “(It was something) the
prosecuting attorney’s office brought to our
attention.”

The original bill would have made it illegal for minors to
possess any “bodily alcohol content,” meaning that
minors could be charged for consuming alcohol in Canada and
returning across the border intoxicated. Lawmakers later removed
this provision before sending the bill to Granholm, because under
Canadian law underage drinkers from the U.S are allowed to consume
alcohol in some provinces.

Sofia said if minors returning from the border after drinking
receive an MIP, they have an opportunity for “affirmative
defense” in which they must prove in court that the alcohol
was legally consumed in Canada.

Before Granholm signed the bill, there was opposition to it in
the state Senate. About a third of senators voted against the
penalties, but it passed with a vote of 24 to 13 on March 31. Liz
Brater (D-Ann Arbor) was among those against the bill, arguing that
prisons were not the appropriate setting for minors.

“I definitely think we should work to curb underage
drinking, but I don’t think this is the way to go about
it,” Brater said in an earlier interview regarding the
legislation.

LSA junior Lucas LaKvoi said he thinks the threat of jail time
will not curb underage drinking. “It’ll just make
(underage drinkers) more careful about being caught,” he
said. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said in
an e-mail that DPS will continue to enforce state laws and
University ordinances as it always does.

The new law was approved by the House of Representatives 78 to
28 in late March.