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Minor In Possession In Michigan: Reduced Penalties in 2018

Beginning January 1st, 2018, new laws took effect in Michigan that reduced the penalties for persons under 21 years of age who possess, purchase or consume alcohol (or attempt to possess, purchase or consume alcohol). The new penalties are as follows:

1. First Violation - Minor is responsible for a civil infraction (used to be a misdemeanor until December 31st, 2017) and the fine cannot exceed $100.00. The court can order the minor to participate in substance use disorder services, perform community service or undergo substance abuse screening and assessment at the minor's expense. A minor only gets one opportunity to resolve this offense with a civil infraction.

2. Second Violation - Minor is guilty of a misdemeanor that can carry up to 30 days in jail (ONLY IF the court finds that the minor violated an order of probation, failed to complete any treatment, screening or community service, or failed to pay the fine) or by a fine not exceeding $200.00, or both. The court can order the minor to participate in substance use disorder services, perform community service or undergo substance abuse screening and assessment at the minor's expense. On second violations, the court may withhold a finding of guilt or withhold accepting a plea of admission by the minor and instead place the minor on probation and defer further proceedings. If the minor fulfills the terms and conditions of this probation, the court may dismiss the proceedings without a criminal conviction entering. A minor only gets one opportunity to resolve this offense with this type of discharge. A minor who is convicted of minor in possession with one prior violation will also have their driver's license suspended by the Michigan Secretary for 90 days if there is no deferred judgment of guilt (with the opportunity to get a restricted license after 30 days). A "prior offense" for minor in possession means either the civil infraction or the misdemeanor.

3. Third or Subsequent Violation - Minor is guilty of a misdemeanor that can carry up to 60 days in jail (ONLY IF the court finds that the minor violated an order of probation, failed to complete any treatment, screening or community service, or failed to pay the fine) or by a fine not exceeding $500.00, or both. The court can order the minor to participate in substance use disorder services, perform community service or undergo substance abuse screening and assessment at the minor's expense. Misdemeanors that were deferred, discharged and dismissed under the "second violation" rule above are still counted for the purposes of charging the minor with a third or subsequent violation. A minor who is convicted of minor in possession with two or more prior offense of that same crime will also have their driver's license suspended by the Michigan Secretary for 1 year (with the opportunity to get a restricted license after 90 days). A "prior offense" for minor in possession means either the civil infraction or the misdemeanor.

The new laws did not reduce the penalties for a minor who uses fraudulent identification to purchase alcohol and that is still a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail or a fine not exceeding $100.00, or both (a minor could be charged with this offense IN ADDITION to the applicable minor in possession charge).

The reduction of first-violation minor in possession from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction means that the offense will be treated like a traffic ticket. However, this civil infraction has misdemeanor-type punishments where the judge can order community service or substance abuse treatment. The spirit of the law is to provide first-time offenders with the opportunity to avoid a permanent criminal conviction for a stupid one-time decision.

Of course, this does not necessarily mean that you must walk into the courtroom and admit responsibility or plead guilty just because you are accused of being a minor in possession. The prosecutor still has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There must be evidence that you either admitted to drinking alcohol, you had a bodily alcohol content of 0.02 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, or you had constructive or actual possession of an alcoholic beverage. In some college towns like Lansing and Ann Arbor, police officers frequently hand out so many citations for minor in possession that they surely can't remember every occurrence with particularity to testify in court.

You are not considered a minor in possession of alcohol if you are any of the following:

a. A minor who initiates contact with a peace officer or emergency medical service personnel for obtaining medical assistance for a legitimate health concern.

b. A minor who consumes alcohol and is enrolled in a course offered by an accredited postsecondary educational institution in an academic building of the institution under the supervision of a faculty member if the purpose of the consumption is solely educational and is a requirement of the course.

c. A minor who consumes sacramental wine in connection with religious services at a church, synagogue, or temple.

d. A minor in an undercover operation where he or she purchases or receives alcoholic liquor under the direction of the person's employer and with the prior approval of the local prosecutor's office as part of an employer-sponsored internal enforcement action.

e. A minor in an undercover operation where he or she purchases or receives alcoholic liquor under the direction of the state police, the commission, or a local police agency as part of an enforcement action.

It is an affirmative defense regarding a minor's bodily alcohol content that the minor consumed the alcoholic liquor in a venue or location where that consumption is legal (for example, in Canada where the drinking age is 19 years old). However, this does not excuse bodily alcohol content for any other crimes you can be charged with. For example, you can be guilty of operating while intoxicated if you drive a motor vehicle with a bodily alcohol content of 0.08 or more per 100 milliliters of blood no matter where the liquor was consumed. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help answer your questions regarding minor in possession before making an important legal decision of how to dispose of this type of case.

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