Minor in possession charge inching closer to decriminalization

by: Matt Newburg

03/08/2016 06:03 AM EST

Persons under the age of 21 caught consuming or purchasing alcohol may soon face a civil infraction, rather than a misdemeanor, under legislation that recently passed the Michigan Senate.

Senate Bills 332 and 333, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), are now being considered by the House Committee on Criminal Justice. 

According to the Michigan State Police, more than 6,000 people faced minor in possession (MIP) charges in 2013. Sen. Jones has called it “outrageous” to make it a crime for people under 21 to drink or buy alcohol. He told the Detroit Free Press that judges should not be imposing seven-day jail sentences “for having a beer.”

   SB 332 would amend the Michigan Liquor Control Code as follows:

  • Designate a first violation by a person under 21 for purchasing, possessing, or consuming alcohol, or having any bodily alcohol content as a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor, with subsequent violations continuing to be misdemeanors. 
  • Impose a $100 fine for a first violation, rather than the current $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. A second offense would be punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine, while a third offense would be punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, with a possible driver’s license revocation.
  • Allow a minor to be found responsible or admit responsibility for an MIP civil infraction only once. 
  • Allow the deferral and dismissal of an MIP violation only for a person who had no prior judgments of an MIP misdemeanor. 
  • Require the Secretary of State (SOS) to suspend the driver’s license of a person convicted of a second or subsequent MIP violation, rather than for any MIP violation. 
  • Allow an officer to request, rather than require, a minor to submit to a preliminary chemical breath analysis, if the officer has reasonable cause to believe the minor consumed alcohol. Allow the results of a preliminary chemical breath test or other acceptable blood- alcohol test to be admitted in a state civil infraction proceeding or criminal prosecution. 
  • Delete authorization for an officer to arrest a person based on the results of a preliminary chemical breath analysis, and delete a provision making it a civil infraction for a minor to refuse to submit to a breath analysis. 

Meanwhile, SB 333 would amend the Michigan Vehicle Code to no longer require that the SOS suspend the driver’s license of a person who commits certain alcohol-related violations and already has one MIP conviction. 

MIP is an offense that unnecessarily clogs Michigan’s court system. Between 2009 and 2013, nearly 39,000 people under the age of 21 were arrested for some type of MIP charge. Counties with colleges saw the highest number of offenders, including Ingham County (Michigan State University), Washtenaw County (University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University), and Isabella County (Central Michigan University).