New MIP law reduces legal consequences

Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 8:25pm

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Design by Roseanne Chao

 

One LSA freshman, who requested to remain anonymous, said he has paid almost $200, and will pay about another $400 in courts costs and up to $1,000 in probation fees. He also has to complete five days of community service, and though the student foresees a judge accepting his plea and giving him six to 12 months of reporting probation, combined with regular drug and breathalyzer tests, the repercussions aren't over.

This student has received two MIPs while attending the University. He grew up in Michigan and noted MIPs were treated differently in his hometown.

“I am from Michigan, and have been dealing with the old laws since I started drinking in high school senior year. In my county, one that hasn’t voted a Democrat into office since the 1800s, the consequences of a MIP were much higher than in Washtenaw,” he said.

Under previous law, those convicted of a MIP could have faced heavy fines, community service, enrollment in an alcohol education program or jail time if probation is violated. Now, the civil infraction carries a $100 fine and no court appearance for violators, on par with a traffic ticket.

New Year’s Day new laws governing Minor in Possession of Alcohol offenses went into effect in Michigan, changing the crime from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction and reducing the penalties for underage across the state. The legislation first passed the Michigan Senate in the spring of 2016 and was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2017.

A blood alcohol content of 0.02 or above for anyone under 21 years old constitutes a violation under the law. Though the first offense is now a civil infraction, the second offense remains a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail, a $200 fine and a driver’s license suspension.

The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, a former policeman. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press earlier this month, Jones said he wants to give young people a chance to make a mistake without obtaining a criminal history.

“As a former police officer, I would never try to put something in a law that would encourage young people to drink. But when college students go out to drink, they don’t think about committing a misdemeanor,” Jones said.

College towns consistently rank among the top districts for MIP citations in the state of Michigan. According to the Michigan State Police, 4,408 people were charged with an MIP in 2016. From 2009-2013, a total of 38,499 were charged across the state, with 401 citations originating from Washtenaw County alone.

Enforcement on campus is relatively consistent. According to Diane Brown, University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security spokeswoman, DPSS arrested 172 people for MIPs in 2017 and 168 people in 2016.

On campus, Student Legal Services provides University students with free resources and legal assistance as part of their tuition. A comprehensive review of the change in the law is published on their website. Attorney Douglas Lewis, director of Student Legal Services, said they serve many students with MIP charges.

Under the old law, it was our responsibility to make sure that (the students) left us without having a conviction on their records. That usually meant paying a fine, working through the court’s first offender program and the student taking a class called ‘basics,’ offered by Health Services,” Lewis said.

Though the original MIP law included possible jail time for multiple offenses, Lewis said through the Washtenaw County courts, none of his clients ever faced jail time.

“Even on second and third (offenses), I never saw a person sent to jail for a MIP,” he said.

That may be unique to Ann Arbor, though. Lewis said the MIP law was being unevenly enforced across counties, and some courts were giving harsher penalties than others.

“The old law read that a court may give (a violator) a first-offender program. A lot of courts that are in the northern counties weren’t giving anybody any first offender program. You came in with a MIP, you walked out with a conviction,” Lewis said.

He said he believes one motivation behind the new law was to instill more consistency across all county courts.

“The treatment of the law from one county to the next was not necessarily uniform, and I think the new statute changes that. It makes the language much more mandatory for the courts to follow,” Lewis said.

Brown echoed Lewis’s point that MIP charges in Washtenaw County often got expunged from students’ records, so the outcome was effectively like a civil infraction — though this was not the case in all counties.

“In the county, Washtenaw County, the court system had in place some protocols to deal with first-time offenders for alcohol violations that allowed the offender to take a number of steps and then that particular violation often was expunged from their record. So the outcomes for first-time offenders of MIP, in this county, likely aren’t going to get a lot different in what happens with them,” Brown said.

She recognized such a protocol for getting a misdemeanor expunged was not make available in all counties. 

“That kind of active role that the court system played in Washtenaw County wasn't duplicative all across the state,” Brown said.

In Ann Arbor, the anonymous student received his first MIP from holding an open container outside of a party, and a second MIP for drinking in his dorm room. He received his second MIP while on probation from the first. 

For his first MIP, he had to pay $405 and received 50 days probation. For his second MIP, he admitted wrongdoing under the Michigan's Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which is a way for young adults to keep convictions off their record.

He said he thinks the punishments he is facing under the old law are unfair given his offense, saying the punishment he received felt on par with someone who got arrested for driving under the influence.

“After this whole process is done, I will have paid close to two grand, and my chances of getting a government job are completely done. The people I am doing my community service with are there for stuff like felony assault, DUI and home invasion, while I am just a college student looking to have a good time on the weekends,” he said.

Ultimately, no one is sure if the change in MIP law will result in more or fewer arrests, or affect student drinking behaviors.

“I don’t think (the new law) will lead to more drinking… College students are going to drink no matter what,” he said.

Lewis pointed out the effect of the law will still depend on how police choose to enforce it.

“It’s going to take time to see what police do with this. The court has come up with a new system of dealing with them. Folks can simply walk in, pay their ticket and leave,” Lewis said.