First-time underage drinking no longer a crime in Michigan

(WLNS) – It will no longer be a crime for teenagers and other people under 21 to get caught drinking in Michigan.

The first time.

That’s after Governor Rick Snyder signed two bills into law making the first offense of being a “minor in possession” a civil offense instead of a misdemeanor charge. That means anyone who is underage and is caught buying, having, or drinking would only pay a $100 fine.

Attorney Mike Nichols, who specializes in so-called “MIP” and drunk driving cases, says a civil infraction is not a crime.

But under the new laws, repeat offenses would remain misdemeanors. Anyone caught a second time could face up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine. It would also become part of a person’s criminal record. Jail terms and fines would go up from there for repeat offenses.

State Senator Rick Jones, the former Eaton County sheriff, wrote the bill because he says he didn’t want to see kids get criminal records for mistakes they made as young people.

“As a former sheriff, I know all about the terrible and often tragic effects of underage drinking, but this was always about fairness and smarter justice. With this change, students who make a mistake will not end up with criminal records that follow them for the rest of their lives,” Jones said in a press release.

Jones says having a criminal record could harm their futures, including their ability to get into college or get a job.

An analysis by a state legislative office says that in 2014, there were 9,300 convictions for a first offense across the state, 365 for a second offense, and 176 for a third.

It also says the new laws could cost the Secretary of State’s office around $170,000 a year. That’s how much it collected from almost 1,400 drivers whose licenses were suspended because they had a one prior conviction for a “minor in possession” violation on their records. It cost each of them $125 to get their licenses reinstated.

But it says local governments could benefit from reduced court and jail costs.

The laws will take effect in 90 days.

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