Under medical amnesty law, underage drinkers will get new legal protections

Underage drinkers will be able to call 911 without fearing a citation.

Under medical amnesty law, underage drinkers will get new legal protections

Cody Nelson

Underage University of Minnesota students who overdrink will have new legal protections when a medical amnesty law begins Aug. 1.

University students had urged state legislators to pass the law for years but weren’t successful until this spring.

Now that the law is about to take effect, the Minnesota Daily has what underage students need to know if they plan to drink.

Under the law, a minor who is drinking could call 911 in an emergency. If they comply with police and aren’t committing any other crimes, both the person who called and the friend they called for wouldn’t be charged with underage alcohol consumption or possession.

To avoid a ticket, the law states, a person must have an “immediate health or safety concern,” and anyone calling to get help for another must remain on the scene and provide contact information to police.

While underage students will be protected by law, the University can still sanction students under the Student Conduct Code.

If students are cited, the University can meet with them on a case-by-case basis to discuss any potential problems with alcohol abuse.

“Our main concern in our office is for the welfare of the student,” said Sharon Dzik, director of the University’s Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.

But it’s unclear how the University will get information on underage student alcohol use if police don’t issue tickets.

Currently, Minneapolis police only notify the University about incidents involving students around campus if they file a criminal or civil report, said crime prevention specialist Nick Juarez. But under the new law, filing these reports isn’t allowed if medical care is required.

“There’s a whole lot of grey area in this,” he said. “We don’t forward anything along unless there’s a report.”

University officials are adding a new section to their “Know the Code” brochures, which explains the Student Conduct Code, to notify students about the medical amnesty law.

Dzik said the new policy says “University consequences and/or follow-up may still apply” for both students involved, even if medical amnesty makes it so police don’t issue any alcohol-related tickets.

The “critical question” is how the University will receive information when there isn’t a police report, she said.

“We’re going to still want to meet with students,” Dzik said, adding that University officials will likely have further discussions to adjust its policy.

If a medical amnesty incident happens on campus, University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said, the University can still rely on reports from security monitors and residence hall staff, for example.

Miner worked with Minnesota Student Association members to help draft the law, which he said helped make its language more effective.

Previously, when University police handled underage alcohol cases in which someone needed medical attention, it was at the officer’s discretion whether or not to issue a citation, Miner said.

“In some sense, we’ve already been doing amnesty in some cases,” he said, “but not 100 percent of cases.”

Medical amnesty in other states

Currently, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have medical amnesty laws in place, but specifics can differ from state-to-state.

Miner said as a whole his Big Ten peers have told him students don’t use medical amnesty very often.

In Indiana, alcohol-related tickets can be costly. Indiana University Police Lt. Craig Munroe said he believes Indiana legislators passed medical amnesty because the financial and legal penalties made underage drinkers afraid to call for help.

Indiana’s law provides protection for one or more callers seeking medical attention for another person, but not to the person requiring the attention.

North Dakota law is less strict. It provides amnesty for up to five people, including the person receiving medical attention.

North Dakota State University police Lt. Gregory Stone said the law has been pretty successful in its application.

“If the person is in that bad of shape, the last thing they need is a ticket for a minor.”