St. Paul cracks down on underage drinking

by Nick Busse

Underage drinking in the St. Paul area will now be a riskier endeavor, thanks to tougher penalties being enforced by the city attorney’s office.

Underage consumption or possession of alcohol, as well as running or visiting a “disorderly house,” will now land offenders in community court with a requirement that their parents be present.

If convicted, an offender can be given up to 90 days in jail – up from the previous maximum sentence of 15 days – and/or a $1000 fine.

In addition, defendants will have to pay court costs and chemical dependence evaluation fees.

The new punishments follow a rash of underage drinking arrests in St. Paul, particularly among college students.

St. Paul police recently broke up a house party held by several Hamline University students. All three of the party’s hosts had previous violations, and another party-goer had a DWI from only three days before.

But according to assistant city attorney Thomas Weyandt, the city’s new hard-line stance on underage drinking is merely an attempt to enforce existing policies rather than create new ones.

“This was a realization, not a reaction,” Weyandt said, adding, “We realized that we weren’t doing what we said we were going to do.”

To Weyandt, incidents such as the one at Hamline prove mere fines are insufficient to deter repeat offenders.

“A ticket has little impact on what’s taking place. Ten to fifteen percent of the defendants have (prior convictions),” Weyandt said.

Critics of the new penalties claim the police are unfairly targeting college students, and Weyandt admits that St. Paul’s four universities – Hamline, St. Thomas University, Macalester College and St. Catherine’s University – have been the primary focus of enforcement.

“It’s sort of like going fishing: Every once in a while everyone knows where the fish are,” Weyandt said, adding that right now the majority of those fish are college kids.

There is one benefit to the new rules. Underage offenders will now be given a stay of imposition on their sentence so that after one year, if there are no additional violations, the convictions will be stricken from their records.

Nick Busse covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]