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A bad idea in so many ways – underage drinking
March 29, 2010

By Lynda Jensen

McLEOD COUNTY, MN – Providing alcohol to minors is a bad idea in so many different ways, according to three local sources – Judge Michael Savre, McLeod County Sheriff Scott Rehmann,and McLeod County Attorney Mike Junge. The trio are a handful of local officials who are joining forces to address this common problem, with the launch of a program to address this subject in McLeod County.

Below are first-hand accounts by all three about underage drinking and its consequences, from the courtroom to the jail.

Consequences that last a lifetime

By Judge Michael Savre
McLeod County

Why is underage drinking a concern? Here are some statistics. People who begin drinking by age 15 are five times more likely to become alcoholics than those who begin drinking after age 20.

Drinking alcohol can stunt the growth of a still-developing brain, leading to learning problems and other mental disorders.

Kids who drink are more likely to:

• get poor grades in school;
• get in a car crash;
• get in a fight;
• have unsafe sex, which can lead to unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections; and
• become the victim of a crime, such as rape, theft, or assault.

Motor vehicle crashes remain the number one cause of death among youth ages 15-20. Twenty-eight percent of 15- to 20-year-old drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2005 had been drinking.

Irresponsible use of alcohol causes a host of problems. Many adults don’t drink responsibly but, truth be told, the majority of teenagers are even more impulsive and less likely to consider the long-term consequences of their behavior.

What should underage drinkers expect if they are caught drinking?

Juvenile offenders (ages 17 and under) can typically expect the following:

• First offense: Diversion and completion of a chemical awareness educational program.
• Second offense: A mandatory court appearance, supervised probation, three or more days of community work service and completion of an advanced chemical awareness educational program (at their expense). Revocation of driving privileges is also a possibility

Offenders, 18 to 20 years old:

• First offense: The arresting officer has discretion to make it a payable offense or require a court appearance. A payable offense would be a $185 fine and surcharge. Alcohol content over .20 requires a court appearance.
• Second offense: Probation, completion of a chemical awareness educational program, a fine and surcharge (typically more than $250 or five days sentenced-to-serve work service). A CD evaluation may be required and driving privileges may be revoked.

An “offense” includes minor possession, minor consumption, contributing to the status offense/delinquency of a minor, DWI, underage drinking and driving, open bottle, procuring alcohol for a minor, drug paraphernalia, drug possession, etc.

The consequences that will be imposed by the court are not set in stone. Every individual offender is unique. On occasion, a softer or harsher sentence may be appropriate.

What might adult providers expect?

• First-time offenders: Two days in jail, one to two years of probation, a $250 fine plus surcharge, and possibly a chemical dependency evaluation.
• Second-time offenders: 30 days in jail, two years probation, a $500 fine plus surcharge, a chemical dependency evaluation.

Very few teenagers buy their alcohol at the local liquor store using a fake ID. Typically, the alcohol is purchased for them by someone of legal age. We need to get the message out that providing alcohol to underage drinkers is a serious crime. Hopefully, a weekend in jail for first-time offenders and a full month in jail for repeat offenders will do the trick.

What are the long-term legal consequences for these convictions?

Alcohol-related convictions go on the offender’s criminal record, which can be accessed by the public, prospective employers, schools, etc. A conviction can negatively impact the offender’s ability to:

• get a job;
• get into college and/or graduate school;
• obtain a professional license, such as a license to practice medicine or law;
• obtain or retain a valid driver’s license; and
• obtain affordable car insurance.

Every DWI conviction results in an automatic driver’s license revocation, and, depending on the circumstances, could result in mandatory jail. Repeat offenders can have their vehicle forfeited and even be sentenced to prison. The consequences become progressively worse for every conviction.

The sentences imposed in court are just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think most people appreciate the impact an alcohol offense, especially a DWI, can have on their family, their finances, their right to drive, and even their career.

Underage drinking is a bad idea

By Michael Junge
McLeod County Attorney

Over 90 percent of all crime is related to drug abuse, sex abuse, alcohol abuse, or gambling. With youthful offenders, alcohol use/abuse is a huge factor and the consequences are dramatic.

In one case, a 17-year-old girl went to a party with coworkers and parents of the coworkers. The 17-year-old drank too much alcohol and suffered medical complications as a result of the alcohol consumed.

The child needed a liver transplant and will be on lifelong medication. This child suffered lifelong impairment as a result of one night of drinking. The coworker and the parent were convicted of providing alcohol to persons under the age of 21, were required to do community service, pay fines, and pay restitution. Was the one party worth it?

A second 17-year-old drank with a friend who was over 21. The 17-year-old got drunk, vomited, suffered seizures, and was hospitalized. When the adult friend was asked why the friend provided the alcohol to the 17-year-old, the friend replied, “It was safer to drink at (the friend’s) house versus someone else’s.” The adult friend is now facing prosecution, jail, fines, and restitution.

A 19-year-old male was present at a party where an assault was reported to police. When the police arrived and investigated the assault, the 19-year-old, who had been drinking, fled through a window and drove away on a snowmobile and is now facing felony charges for driving while impaired and fleeing a peace officer.

A felony DWI means the defendant has at least three prior alcohol-related offenses, and in this case, all are prior to the defendant’s 20 birthday. This defendant is facing jail or prison time of at least six months, fines, loss of snowmobile, and years without a valid driver’s license.

During the weekend of Feb. 19-21, the Winsted Police conducted alcohol sales compliance checks at establishments in Winsted that sell alcohol. Four out of the six failed and the bartenders or employees who sold the alcohol face criminal charges, and the owners of the establishments face civil penalties. Compliance checks are done annually by police and sheriff deputies throughout McLeod County.

These cases are examples of the types of offenses that come through the McLeod County court system on a weekly basis. McLeod County does have a problem with people under the age of 21 consuming alcohol and endangering themselves or others. Such use can be life-threatening, can be highly dangerous, and is illegal, yet friends, family, and businesses continue to sell or give alcohol to underage people. Why?

We, in law enforcement, prosecute these offenses because we want to punish illegal acts and we want to change behavior, but this goal cannot be met unless the adults in McLeod County make sure that they do not provide underage people access to alcohol. Please help.

McLeod County to kick off drive against underage consumption

By Scott Rehmann
McLeod Co. Sheriff

In April 2010, after years of discussion between law enforcement and local community members, the McLeod County ZAP (Zero Adult Providers) program will be launched into action.

In 2009, the McLeod County ZAP program was officially formed to address the issues of underage alcohol consumption and the adults who are providing the alcohol to them.

Members of the ZAP program include the McLeod County Attorney’s Office, the county public defender, local city prosecutors, McLeod County Court Services, McLeod County Public Health, McLeod County Probation, Department of Corrections, chemical dependency counselors, and the McLeod County Sheriff’s Office, assisted by Sheila Nesbitt of the Minnesota Institute of Public Health.

The ZAP program is designed to focus on stopping adults who provide alcohol to underage adults/children. McLeod County law enforcement are very aggressive regarding this issue; however, unless it is apparent who the adult is that provided the alcohol, the investigation seldom progresses due to the amount of time and resources this type of investigation can consume. Often, the investigation ends with the minor being cited and no further action being taken. By aggressively going after adult providers, the program hopes to stop them from purchasing alcohol for those who are underage.

Dealing with the underage consumer alone is a reactionary measure of merely triaging young people and not getting to the root cause. McLeod County residents expect law enforcement to go after drug dealers who are giving children illegal drugs. This is no different. Substitute the illegal drug with alcohol and results are the same. In reality, alcohol is a drug.

After being a chemical dependency counselor for 12 years, I decided to go about making a difference in a slightly different way. For the last 14 years, I have been helping the community as a law enforcement officer.

During the last 24 years, I have seen the broken lives of teenagers who have developed an alcohol addiction, have been victims of sexual abuse/assault, as well as legal entanglements as a result of bad choices and actions.

In all my years of experience, I have noticed that alcohol has played a large factor in these events. I have seen these same troubled youths become adults and continue in their destructive behavior. Many of them have been incarcerated in jails, state prisons, or have entered treatment facilities. Sadly, sometimes, there is a revolving door with these institutions. Residents of McLeod County end up paying a portion of this expense.

One winter night in my early years in law enforcement, I was driving by a residence on my way home at the end of my shift when I saw a person lying on the ground next to a vehicle. I stopped to find an underage young woman who had passed out from drinking.

She had been there awhile and was suffering from hypothermia. She was transported to the emergency room and eventually made a full recovery. If I had not found her, the outcome may have had a tragic ending. Her life was saved.

The only adult who has the right to give alcohol to an underage adult/child is the parent of that underage adult/child in their home.

If a parent feels their under 21 child is mature and responsible enough to drink alcohol with them in their home, it is their legal right. It is not their legal right to provide this alcohol to someone else’s child in their home or anywhere else.

I am asking fathers and mothers, men and women of McLeod County, to join us and take a stand against underage drinking, and support our efforts.


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