It’s common knowledge that college students drink. Yes, even college students under 21 years old… shocking, right? What actually is shocking to a lot of parents of younger college students is the call home by the son or daughter after being cited for a MIP (minor in possession of alcohol). College is usually an experimental time for students, a time to make mistakes, grow and mature. Run-ins with the law are not necessarily part of the life lessons most parents are enthused about their children learning while away at college. Nevertheless, some, well, actually many students will be cited for this age-specific crime.
The law is found in Business & Professions Code Section 26552, and prohibits any person under the age of 21 from possessing alcohol in any public place or place open to the public. For most students charged with minor in possession in Chico, the incident will occur on a street or sidewalk within minutes from the 5th and Ivy intersection. Chico PD assigns officers to walk or drive around this particular area on weekend nights to catch students in the act of possessing alcohol.
The police who cite the student are well aware of the best methods to get a conviction for MIP. The strategy is to begin a seemingly innocuous conversation with the student and ask what they’re carrying. When the student who is trained from a young age to cooperate with law enforcement and not lie ultimately admits that the water bottle or Gatorade bottle contains alcohol, the officer has the student hooked and a legitimate detention of the student can be made. Information will then be gathered, a picture taken, and a citation with a promise to appear date will be given to the student.
Unfortunately in many of these minor in possession in Chico cases, it is the cooperation and honesty of the student that is the nail in the coffin. Officers must have reasonable suspicion in order to stop or detain an individual suspected of committing a crime. They gain this suspicion justifying the stop of the student by preying on the student’s indoctrinated willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. The officer knows that they are legally allowed to speak to anyone on the street so long as it’s only a “consensual encounter.” The officer needs no justification for striking up a conversation with another person that reveals incriminating evidence as long as s/he does not detain or stop the person and a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter and go on his or her way. Most students will not exercise their right to keep walking without speaking to the cop. Nor will the student invoke his or her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if stopped. The second the student says “hi, it’s going well, yes it’s a water bottle with vodka in it,” the cop can detain the person and conduct further investigation to gather evidence of the crime suspected.
Parents and students alike will be further shocked to hear that these minor in possession charges can be charged as misdemeanors. They will also find out that there is no diversion program in Butte County for these students, and that the year license suspension is mandatory. A charge of being a minor in possession in Chico is not influenced by specifics about the individual student. Lack of a prior criminal history does nothing for the student. Nor does the fact that the student is a model student, humanitarian, and an otherwise law abiding person. The simple fact is that if the government has enough evidence that was legally obtained against the person, considerations of how great the individual is are not a factor.
The only good news is that there are ways to fight the MIP charge including challenging the stop of the student, arguing that an element of the offense has not been established, and that the person’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures was violated. In many cases the officer will have stopped and searched the student lawfully and all of the elements of the crime will be able to be proven. In those cases, the only reassurance that can be offered is that in most cases the charge can be reduced to an infraction and a restricted driver’s license can be obtained.
Criminal defense lawyer Matthew Luzaich has defended many minor in possession in Chico cases. He provides free consultations with students to discuss the facts of their cases, the application of the law to the facts, and any possible defenses the student may have. If the student decides to retain Mr. Luzaich, he will appear in court for the student without the student ever having to be present in court. This is a major benefit to those students who have busy schedules and don’t have time to miss class or work. Mr. Luzaich will request the evidence against the student and go over it in detail with the student. Mr. Luzaich prides himself on being available to clients and the parents of clients to answer all questions they may have. He provides reasonable pricing and payment plans for his clients. Call today for a free legal consultation with Matthew Luzaich.