MIP Verdicts as a Two-Tier Judgement System

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

This proposal can make a difference for all students who are under the age of 21, and is applicable to students of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses as well. Minor in Possession law is changing in the state of Michigan starting in January of 2018, going from the first offense being a Misdemeanor to a Civil Infraction. In both cases, the minor who is guilty still has to pay a $100 fine.

 

Michigan Legislators have clearly taken the stance that drinking amongst minors is in fact inevitable, so lowering the punishment won’t as negatively affect their future. Additionally, by lowering the punishment to a Civil Infraction the court system will have more time slots available to deal with more serious crimes, rather than an 18 year old kid who drank a few beers and got caught.

 

Although this punishment is more favorable for students, the precedent it sets is dangerous. By paying a $100 fine and nothing else, students get off incredibly easy and won’t be swayed against drinking next time they go out. Thus, the reason for my proposal. I believe that my proposal of a two-tier punishment system encourages minors to be more responsible. If they barely drank, they will be in less trouble, but if they drank more they would receive a greater punishment. Minors will have this thought process going through their, which I believe will make them more responsible. By knowing if they drink enough alcohol to exceed 0.08 BAC, and that they are more susceptible to increased punishment, minors will be more likely to drink less alcohol than if it were solely a Civil Infraction charge. As a result, this solution could make a difference in the habits and behaviors of minors who are breaking the law by consuming alcohol.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

I learned about this issue for the first time on the Michigan Student Caucus. It was one of the first discussion topics created and it really stood out to me. I hadn't heard of the new legislation to change the punishment, but I felt it wasn't necessarily the right solution, which prompted me to craft my proposal around this topic. After researching this issue further online, I saw that the primary reason for the law change was to free up the court rooms. This shocked me because instead of the state taking the approach to prevent drinking, they actually went in the opposite direction and decided to instill less punishment. This is fine because to a certain extent drinking amongst minors is inevitable, however I personally don't want to see a more aggressive drinking culture arise as a result.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

I completed my service activity at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. During my time at the museum, I worked with younger children by helping them learn new things about science, in addition to working unique exhibits that attracted hundreds of people during the day. Although not directly related to my proposal for MIP law change, I believe I noticed the importance of having a hobby. When people are busy with something, there is naturally less time for drinking. Furthermore, when that person has a bit of free time they are more likely to pursue a hobby they are passionate about rather than drinking alcohol. It was really cool to see how passionate some of these younger kids were about science, and having dreams of becoming engineers, because hopefully one day they are more likely to stay safe and learn rather than drinking alcohol.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Indiviudal podcast addressing both sides of the argument.

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: 

Jonathan Jones - Self Practicing Criminal Defense Attorney: I spoke with Jonathan about the new law that is effective next January, and he was well aware of the change. He was generally for the new change because he felt that the previous charge of a misdemeanor was way too strict of a punishment. However, he did see the point that I brought up about not actually stopping drinking amongst minors.

 

After presenting my proposal to him, he felt that it had a lot of moving parts. He believed that an MIP is a single crime, therefore it should have a single punishment. He stated how it might be difficult to get this amendment passed because my argument is that it eliminates a grey area (above or below 0.08), but in his mind no grey area exists, either the minor drank or didn’t. He generally believe solutions should be more proactive rather than reactive, and mine is reactive.

 

CONSULTATION 2:

Gayle Rosen - Michigan Student Legal Services: Gayle doesn't specifically worth with minors who receive MIPs, but she was awesome to talk with. She provided me with the diverse perspective I was looking for because she has different interactions with minors and understand how we think. She felt that it would be interesting if my two-tier system was implemented for the second offense rather than the first one. Her rationale was that the new law change was made so that minors would be in less trouble, so leave that as is and continue to give minors the opportunity to be in less trouble if they receive a second one. As it stands, the new law has the second offense being charged as a misdemeanor, so this was a really interesting idea.

CONSULTATION 3:

Jon Abrahams - Self Practicing Personal Injury and Criminal Defense Attorney: Jon was awesome to speak with as he is in Ann Arbor basically every month representing a different minor for an MIP. He has built great relationships with all of the judges and prosecutors in the area, so he was very familiar with the new law and the implications it might bring.

 

He was concerned about the usage of breathalyzers in my proposal. There is already a lot of scrutiny for using breathalyzers, and he was the first person to make me aware of the errors in reporting BAC. He thought it would be tough determining charges for a minor if their BAC was right around 0.08 because you would never know whether or not the right decision was made. He felt this was too great of a risk to potentially give a minor the wrong charge, so in general he thought it would be tough for this solution to be plausible on a grand scale.

Prospectus:

Describe the specific issue or problem, being sure to provide sufficient context so that someone less familiar with the issue has a sense of the bigger picture, but know that your focus here is on a more detailed spelling out of the specific problem or issue that you’ve identified. (250 words minimum)

The issue being addressed deals specifically with section 436.1703 under Michigan Liquor Control Code. The new amendment to the law will become effective January 1, 2018, but I believe there are a few issues still with this new proposal. The main difference that will be effective in the new amendment is the type of criminal punishment given to minors, changing from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction for the first two offenses of a minor in possession charge. The associated fines with the level of offenses still remain the same.

 

The primary issue I have identified is the wording of the new amendment itself. In section 703, part 1a, the exact wording states, “a court may order a minor under this subdivision to participate in substance use disorder services… and may order the minor to perform community service and to undergo substance abuse screening and assessment at his or her own expense.” Although not a bad idea, enforcing a minor to partake in such services is contradictory to the punishment of a Civil Infraction. According to the Michigan Courts website, there is no documentation for requiring any offender to meet these requirements. Therefore, we can see the actual writing of the law is contradicting and should be further investigated because it is unclear how they are actually going to enforce community service upon minors when punishing them with a civil infraction. The way I see it, minors will just pay the ticket and there won’t even be a court hearing to assign such a punishment.

 

The second issue that I believe needs to be addressed is the intention of the law itself. Many legislators were in favor for the law because minor in possession charges were clogging up the court rooms and preventing police officers and judges from handling more important cases. By changing the charge to a civil infraction, clearly there would be less court appearances. However, the debate still continues on whether or not this new law will further promote under-aged drinking, because now the first charge will just be a mere slap on the wrist.

 

Should the punishment for under-aged drinking be lesser because ultimately drinking amongst minors is inevitable, or should we further increase the punishment to try and stop the problem at the source? Both options have pros and cons, but we will have to wait and see how this new amendment plays out. Regardless of whether the crime is a civil infraction or misdemeanor, the wording of the law itself needs to be addressed first.

Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: Implement a two-tier punishment system. As it stands, the current punishment for the first offense of an MIP is a misdemeanor charge. Some people thought this was too strict of a punishment, so starting next year in January the new punishment for a first offense will be a civil infraction. However, there is still strong opposition that the law may be too weak and not prevent drinking enough. Therefore, I propose to establish a cut-off at the legal limit for adults, a BAC of 0.08, and determine the punishment in relationship to the limit. If a minor blows into a breathalyzer less than 0.08, they would receive a civil infraction. On the other hand, if a minor blows greater than a 0.08 they would receive a misdemeanor. By implementing this punishment system, it would lessen the punishment for the minors who drank minimal alcohol, and more heavily punish those who drank excessive amounts to help prevent future drinking.

SOLUTION 2: Eliminate the “body as a container” law in Michigan. In the state of Michigan, minors can receive a Minor In Possession charge even if they aren't holding any alcohol. If there is alcohol in their system, they can still be arrested and receive an MIP. By eliminating the body as a container law in the state of Michigan, there would be a reduction of MIPs, which would achieve the state’s goal of freeing up the court rooms from dealing with petty cases. Other states do not have this law, making their court rooms less congested than Michigan, so it could definitely be effective in our state as well.

SOLUTION 3: Lower the drinking age to 20 years old. The difference in a 21 and 20 year old person is basically nothing. People at both ages are physically developed at equal levels, so there is no reason that someone who is 21 years old should be judged differently than someone who is 20. By lowering the drinking age the court rooms would become much less congested due to decreasing the population of minors eligible to even receive a Minor In Possession charge. I believe that 18 is too young of an age because that would allow high school students to drink, however age 20 only affects college students which is who the majority of MIPs are given too.

 

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

Topic Coordinator Matthew Chasin provided feedback throughout the different stages of my proposal. Specifically, his post relating to my solutions got me to really think about why one solution might be better than another. His comments regarding my first solution, the two-tier punishment system that I have decided will spearhead my proposal, has helped me view my solution from a different perspective and anticipate different counter arguments. His comment, “The issue you have to consider with this solution is that it sends the message that drinking a little is kind of ok relative to drinking a lot,” forced me to consider whether this solution was actually possible. After long consideration, I decided the solution would be effective because in essence, Michigan Legislators already made that distinction themselves by lowering the punishment from a Misdemeanor to a Civil Infraction. Thus, my solution would actually be more of a punishment and promote less drinking amongst minors. Therefore, his comments helped me anticipate different counter arguments that would arise from my suggested solution.

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

So the research began after I had originally made a discussion post for this topic. I wanted to see whether or not something like my solution had already been debated, and to my knowledge it hadn't. Additionally, I checked to see if this was something that was technically a part of the new law that is effective January of 2018, and it isn't. Therefore, I knew that this was something I could do for my proposal

 

I began researching the main reason for why the law was changing and I came across two things: 1) MIPs shouldn't derail a minor’s future, and 2) The court systems are too crowded due to MIPs, so by lowering the punishment to a civil infraction ticket there would be more available time slots for more serious cases. What personally shocked me was that the new amendment to the law passed by a vote of 105-1. This seemed incredibly odd to me because underaged drinking is a big issue that leads to so many bigger problems like assault, sexual abuse, vandalism, and other poor decisions. However, Michigan Legislators felt the bill should be pass, so they voted for it. I wanted to create a solution that was reactive, similar to the legislators, but I wanted to be sure mine was a little more strict. I ultimately concluded that my solution would help prevent excess drinking because of the increased punishment, so I found consultants to speak with.

 

I spoke with two attorneys who represent minors for underaged drinking, and one attorney who works for Michigan Student Legal Services, but doesn't exactly pursue this type of law. I wanted one attorney who didn't deal specifically with this type of law because I needed a diverse perspective. It was important to hear what other types of people would say because maybe she would bring up counter arguments that wouldn’t otherwise be thought of (the effects of diversity within a team are well researched and overwhelmingly positive!). In short, none of my consultants absolutely agreed with my proposal, however none of them agreed with the move from a Misdemeanor to a Civil Infraction either, so they helped me think through a lot of the counter arguments for what someone might say to me in opposition of my proposal.

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

I have worked on this proposal independently, therefore I have done all of the research, thinking, interviewing, and writing myself.

===FORMAL PROPOSAL===

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... In the state of Michigan, from 2009 to 2013 there were roughly 39,000 arrests for MIPs according to the most recent police report,

WHEREAS.... There were approximately 9,300 first offense MIPs, 365 second offenses, and 176 third offenses in 2014, which are greater than historical averages,

WHEREAS.... The new proposed law to be effective in January of 2018 doesn't actually prevent drinking, rather it decreases the punishment so it is viewed as less of an issue,

WHEREAS.... Lessening the punishment of a first offense to a State Civil Infraction is fine, however the new law is still conflicting with some of its proposed ideas, for example ordering a minor to comlete community service.

(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1. To implement a two-tier punishment system that establishes a BAC cutoff at 0.08, punishing those who drank equal to or less than with a State Civil Infraction, and those who drank more with a Misdemeanor;

2. To address the potential disconnect between the charge given and potential punishments that have to be completed to satisfy the crime.

(Add more "Resolved" clauses if necessary.)

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. This change doesn't actually stop drinking. In fact, it gives the idea that drinking less alcohol is somehow okay versus drinking more alcohol.

2. Using a breathalyzer to test for a BAC of 0.08 is an issue because breathalyzers have a margin of error either way of 0.02. When considering this in context of the punishments proposed, a breathalyzer error could be the difference between a civil infraction or a misdemeanor.

3. A Minor in Possession is a black and white crime. Either somebody drank or they didn’t, therefore there needs to be one single punishment for the crime. It may not be something everyone agrees on, but it needs to be either a Civil Infraction or a Misdemeanor for the first offense, not either depending upon the situation.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

When considering direct costs, it will be salaries paid to legislators to draft a new bill. It doesn’t cost any money to change this law, but it is rather the time and effort of doing so. Legislators could be considering other laws that need to be amended, so there is an opportunity cost. With regards to how it will effect future costs or revenue earned from the charges, it should be very similar to the way it is now. The first offense requires a $100 charge, which would not go away under my proposal. Police officers are still going to arrest the same amount of people, but the difference comes from whether or not there is just an issuing of a ticket or if a court is needed. If a court is needed (minor has a BAC of over 0.08), then court fees will need to be paid for, but a civil infraction charge will not require a court. Therefore, it wouldn’t cost extra money to change this law, but the judicial system won’t be as jammed with cases so they could lose some court fees as a result.

References:

These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.

http://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2016/12/06/minor-possession-charge-goes-misdemeanor-civil-infraction/95044128/

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billconcurred/Senate/pdf/2015-SCB-0332.pdf

http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/03/the_proposal_to_decriminalize.html

http://www.formerfedlawyer.com/blog/2016/12/teenage-and-juvenile-crime-minor-in-possession-1.shtml

http://courts.mi.gov/self-help/center/casetype/pages/infraction.aspx

http://time.com/money/4048973/states-with-crazy-alcohol-liquor-laws/

http://business.time.com/2013/12/05/the-3-best-and-3-worst-states-in-america-for-drinking/

https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billanalysis/Senate/pdf/2015-SFA-0332-B.pdf

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Total votes: 50

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