Underage Consumption And Ohio’s College Students: Know Your Rights
Being charged with “underage consumption” is a common occurrence on Ohio college campuses. The crime of underage consumption is a violation of Ohio Revised Code, which prohibits possessing, consuming or being under the influence of alcohol under the age of 21. Holding an alcoholic beverage and/or being intoxicated in a public place is enough to sustain the charge. Students sometimes mistakenly believe that an officer must give them a breathalyzer test to “prove” intoxication. This is not the law. College students often compound their problems by being so scared of being arrested for underage consumption that they provide false information to the officer. Doing so can lead to a charge of Falsification or Obstructing Official Business. Too often we see a person the cops call the “drunk samaritan.” This person approaches the police officers and tries to convince the police to let their target go about their business. This person frequently ends up charged with Obstructing Official Business or Disorderly Conduct. Ohio Revised Code Section 4301.69 contains most of the information concerning underage alcohol possession and use. Penalties are in Ohio Revised Code Section 4301.99.
You may also violate Ohio’s Underage Drinking Law by being the host. A social host or home owner risks being fined and imprisoned when he/she furnishes alcohol to a person who is not 21 years of age. You may not know the people at your party, but that does not matter to the police. The bigger the party the more likely police will be called and the greater the chance of getting caught and/or charged.
A violation of Ohio’s Underage Consumption law is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by a potential jail term of six (6) months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000.00 and other penalties like court costs, community service, probation, alcohol counseling and untold issues with your college. Under some (most?) college codes of conduct, merely being charged with violating the underage drinking law may subject you to penalties ranging from residential penalties and university penalties to loss of scholarship or dismissal from your college athletic team. In addition, spending time in jail is humiliating and terrifying. There are long-term penalties to consider. In today’s world you will also see your picture of your mug shot on the internet. What’s worse than that? Seeing the same mug shot sitting on the desk of the person interviewing you for your first job.
So how should you act when you are approached by an officer? The best answers I have seen come from Ohio University’s “Survival Tips For Court Street.” This guide is a great explanation of your rights. It states, in pertinent part,
If asked for ID when you are not in a bar, give them your name, address and anything that identifies you without your social security number or age. You are not required to give the officer your driver’s license or social security number unless you are already under arrest. Ask if you are arrest or in custody. If not, ask if you can leave. (If an officer grabs your wallet or purse it is considered an invalid search). Ask your friends to witness your conversation with the officer. If you or your friends are asked another person’s age, advise the officer that you want to speak to an attorney before answering any questions.
- The officer can and probably will arrest you anyway. Remember, the police can arrest anyone for anything but unless you’ve done something else to warrant an arrest, they must know at the time of your arrest that you are under 21 before convicting you of underage consumption of alcohol. Mere youthful appearance is not sufficient probable cause to convict!
- Be polite, but firm. You have the right to remain silent so use it. Do not incriminate yourself, and do not try to run away. Simply identify yourself and ask for your attorney.
- The police officer may be angry or threatening. Don’t worry, he/she will not hurt you. Unless you give them the evidence, they cannot convict you. Never lie and always treat the officer with respect. But never admit anything, just remain silent.
- Do not stand near sidewalks or streets with an open container of alcohol. If you are stopped for this or for disorderly conduct, the police officer can seize your ID and will know your age. Know the phone number of someone who is sober to come get you.
- Stay with your friends and witnesses. Travel in groups. Police officers look for people who are walking alone and appear to be intoxicated. Avoid looking suspicious – don’t hide the alcohol.
- Being arrested does not mean you will be convicted! Follow the above rules, and you may be able to beat the charges against you if the arrest was unlawful. When you go to your first court date, DO NOT PLEAD GUILTY. Ask the court for more time to discuss your case with your attorney.
Everyone you know, including the police officer enforcing the underage drinking law may disagree with it, but that does not change the fact that you face life-altering penalties if you get convicted of this offense. I have represented many clients charged with underage drinking offenses in and around the Miami Valley. I have been able to get the underage drinking charges dismissed or reduced, and we are often able to get the records for the case sealed (expunged).