Drinking minors face tough, lifelong punishments

One citation is a misdemeanor and will live on an offender’s record forever.

by Aidan M. Anderson

Quarters and vice presidents aside, underage drinking is not always fun and games.

Underage consumption and drinking in public can result in serious consequences.

If a person gets in trouble for underage drinking or drinking in public, it’s not as cut-and-dried as paying a fine and pleading guilty in court. The offenses become permanent criminal record, said Steve Johnson, University deputy chief of police.

“Even one (charge) is a misdemeanor,” he said.

University police have issued approximately 500 minor consumption citations since the beginning of the semester, Johnson said. Not all of the citations were issued to students, but some to campus visitors and nonstudents, he said.

Luis Bartolomei, a University Student Legal Service staff attorney, said students can use the service to learn about their options when they get in trouble.

Usually minors caught drinking receive a ticket. Offenders can proceed in three ways – pay the fine, go to court and fight it, or contact Restorative Justice Community Action Inc.

But it’s not so easy for people with multiple citations or arrests. They can face additional consequences if they continue to break the law.

Prior convictions result in stiffer fines, mandatory chemical-dependency counseling or even jail time, Bartolomei said.

If a defendant ends up in court for an incident related to prior convictions, it can impact the judge’s sentencing.

“The judge might see that the defendant isn’t getting the message,” Bartolomei said. “Liberties become more compromised the more offenses you stack up.”

If an individual chooses to ignore the citation, the ticket can be turned over to collections, and the fines will either be garnished from an individual’s tax refund or sought by a collection agency, said Tim Richards, 2nd precinct community attorney.

If the offender is required to appear in court and misses the date, a warrant can be issued for their arrest, Richards said.

Some offenders have opted to enroll in the area’s restorative justice program. It links offenders with the community where the crimes occurred.

The offender agrees to meet with a council composed of community members to decide on a repayment contract to have the misdemeanor charges dismissed.

The contract typically involves service within the community and sometimes donations, according to the restorative justice Web site.

A citation will be reissued to the offender if they fail to complete the contract, and they will no longer be eligible for the program.

“It’s a one-shot deal,” Richards said.