There are three things you need to know if you are a Michigan State University student, about minor in possession of alcohol offenses:
1. Minor in Possession of Alcohol is a Crime. Minor in Possession of Alcohol is a criminal offense. This means that if you are found guilty, then you will have a criminal record. In addition to having a criminal record, there are driver's license implications as well. If you have two convictions or more, your license will be suspended. Upon your first conviction, the Secretary of State will maintain a public record that you have been convicted. This happens even if an automobile is not involved. The Secretary of State does this so that your insurance company can keep track of alcohol-related offenses when they do an electronic sweep of Secretary of State driving records, before sending out a bill for your car insurance premium. In short, insurance companies believe that a person who drinks underage is more likely to drink and drive, and therefore, your insurance rates (probably your parents' insurance rate) will likely increase. A criminal record means that if you apply for a job, apply for graduate school, apply for a particular license, when you are asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime, you will have to respond with "yes". This could compromise your ability to obtain employment in situations where there are two equally qualified candidates for a position, and one has a record and one does not. It is easier to rule someone out if there is some indication that the person may have an alcohol problem. Employers might perceive a minor in possession of alcohol conviction as the tip of the iceberg.
2. You Do Not Have to Take a Breath Test. Most everyone who has an encounter with the police, who is suspected of being a minor in possession of alcohol, will be asked to take a breath test. It may sound more like an order or a directive than a request. Under state statute, minors suspected of being in possession of alcohol (either physically, i.e. holding a can or a Solo cup, or having alcohol in their system, i.e. visibly intoxicated) are required to take a breath test. However, a Michigan federal court has ruled Michigan's state law unconstitutional and noted that breath tests cannot be obtained without a search warrant, unless a target defendant consents to the testing. Whether you are holding a can or a cup with alcohol in it, or just appear to be intoxicated, the police will request that you take a breath test to determine your level of intoxication. In many cases where people are not obviously intoxicated, police officers will phrase their "request" in such a way that students often feel compelled to take the breath test. In these situations, police officers are trying to establish evidence of guilt, so they can give you a ticket (criminal charge), or potentially arrest you. Beware that students who refuse breath tests are often arrested; while those who take a breath test and provide evidence of guilt to the police and whose test results are not very high, are often released and advised to appear in court within ten days. As a rule of thumb, if you are holding an open can of alcohol, and the police request a breath test, go ahead and take the test. If you do not take the test, you will probably be arrested. If there is no visual or other observable evidence of your intoxication, you may want to consider refusing the breath test, although you may risk a night in jail.
3. There Are Many Ways to Avoid a Criminal Conviction. Although a Minor in Possession of Alcohol is a crime, state law gives courts (judges) the option of placing minors on a short period of probation, which usually includes an educational program and drug and alcohol testing. This court-supervised "diversion" program allows a minor to avoid a criminal record if the probation is successfully completed. The Secretary of State will keep a "non-public" record that you were placed into this "diversion" program, so that others courts and prosecutors are aware that you have used up this "one-time-only" opportunity to avoid a criminal record. Given that most students on campus drink, it is highly likely that they will have at least one encounter with the police, possibly resulting in a Minor in Possession of Alcohol charge. Unfortunately, students who get caught once, and think they will likely never get caught again, often do, and thus, could face the consequences of a second offense, including license suspension (for a second conviction) and more insurance problems.
At Baird & Zulakis, P.C., we like to find solutions for MIP charges that do not include utilizing the one-time-only "diversion" program. Due to the risk of a student getting caught a second time, with a definite criminal record in store, we like to keep the "diversion" option in reserve.
Therefore, whether a student is charged by the East Lansing Police Department and is prosecuted by the City Attorney's office, or charged by the Michigan State University Police Department and is prosecuted by the Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, we look for ways of avoiding the criminal justice system and seeking resolutions, including outright dismissals if the police acted inappropriately, or where all evidence points to guilt and there are no procedural defenses, a reduction of charges to a civil infraction, such as a littering ticket or similar inconsequential resolutions. Although the fines for such reductions can be hefty, this type of resolution reserves the potential use of the court's "diversion" program in the future, while avoiding a criminal record and any Secretary of State record.
Our office has been successful in over 90% of the cases that we handle, with our clients walking out of court without a criminal record, most of the time, without having to utilize the court's "diversion" program. These results can be credited to our proactive approach, where we utilize a number of interventions to put our clients in the best possible position to obtain a favorable outcome.
If you have been arrested and/or charged with Minor in Possession of Alcohol, call an experienced attorney immediately to preserve all of your options.