Legislation intended to change consequences for a first offense minor in possession charge passed through the state House of Representatives last Tuesday and are set to face final review soon by the state Senate and Gov. Rick Snyder.
Senate Bill 332 — which was introduced in 2015 and sponsored by state Sen. Rick Jones (R–Grand Ledge) — would reduce an MIP offense from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction for the first offense and carry a $100 fine. Second and third offenses would continue to carry misdemeanor status and heftier fines.
Currently, under Michigan law, any individuals under the age of 21 who are caught by police purchasing, possessing or consuming alcohol are charged with a misdemeanor — a charge that, unless expunged at a later date, stays on an individual’s criminal record for the rest of their life. Some courts, including in Washtenaw County, ___
In an interview in March, Jones said permanently marking young people’s criminal records for what he called a first mistake was one of the primary reasons behind the bill.
“People believe that we should not criminalize young people for one offense of possession of alcohol because the consequences are not just a misdemeanor,” Jones said. “It affects their ability to get some college scholarships, it affects their ability to get jobs when they get out of college.”
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, with a 105-1 vote. According to the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, 330 MIP citations were given in 2015 in Washtenaw County and 283 so far in 2016.
Douglas Lewis, University of Michigan Student Legal Services director, said not much will change for University students and underage people charged with an MIP, because during his time with the services, he has rarely seen a first offender end up with a conviction on their record despite the standing of current laws. He added that the majority of students who come to Student Legal Services for representation in an MIP case are first offenders.
“It would be really unusual for an MIP to make it to a record or conviction, really unusual,” he said. “In my time, if someone took a first offender deal and completely botched it, they could end up with a conviction but that is a really hard thing to do.”
Lewis added that any impact for students will depend on how the courts handle any changes to the law.
“I think it will be interesting to see if it passes; the courts are not quite sure what they are going to do with that yet because it does say that it is a civil infraction but it also still provides for doing some substance abuse education, if the court wants that,” he said.