Under current Michigan law, minors caught drinking — or simply possessing — alcohol face misdemeanor charges and a possible criminal record. Starting January of 2018 that will all change. First time violations will be treated as a civil infraction (much like speeding tickets and minor driving offenses). As a result, look for relief for embarrassed young adults filling out job applications that ask whether they have any criminal convictions.
As it stands, a first time offender who pleads guilty and completes a period of probation can get the misdemeanor dismissed from her record. That option will remain in place under the amended statute, which essentially means minors have two chances to make mistakes without a permanent criminal record.
The amended law also corrects a constitutional problem with the statute. As written, the current law permits police officers to require minors to submit to a chemical breath test upon suspicion that the minor has been drinking. However, many Michigan judges have found this mandatory breath test unconstitutional. Under the amended law, minors may refuse to take the breath test without committing a second offense.
Why the change? According to the Institute of Continuing Legal Education’s Rachel Sedlacek, economics are the likely driver. She notes this language in the legislative analysis: “If the proposed change in offense classification resulted in lower court and incarceration costs, and civil infraction revenue remained the same, there could be a net benefit to local law enforcement entities.” In other words, local police departments and courts will spend less to investigate, prosecute and enforce misdemeanor convictions but still receive the same fines and costs from the offending minor.
If you have questions, or need a referral to qualified criminal defense attorney, please contact us Wright Beamer at (248) 477-6300 or visit our website.