Beginning July 27, 2011, a loophole in the law governing "minor in possession of alcohol" will finally be plugged. The current law states, "For the purposes of this section, intoxicating liquor, wine, or beer in the body of a minor shall not be deemed to be in his or her possession." (Statute 3-3-203 Section 1, subsection (a) (2)).
For all practical purposes, law enforcement has to catch the minor with the alcohol in their hand, on their person or in their vehicle. Even if an alcohol breath test clearly indicates that there is alcohol in the minor's body, it is not considered possession. Kids are very smart and resourceful; they have figured out the loophole and know all they have to do is put the drink down and never be caught actually holding the ‘intoxicating liquor, wine or beer'.
Going into effect on July 27, Act 1152 of 2011 passed by the Arkansas Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Beebe will have a major impact in the way law enforcement combats underage drinking. This marks a significant milestone for me; I have been attempting to strengthen this law since 2005.
About the time (Prior to being elected) I was elected to office, there were a series of fatal accidents involving our youth and alcohol. In 2005, my Chief Deputy Jeff Lewis and I met with former State Senator Shawn Womack and former State Representative Johnny Key to determine how to strengthen our laws. There were a number of existing laws dealing with the issue of underage possession and drinking; however from a law enforcement perspective, some of these laws had loopholes and others simply had no teeth in the punishment.
From that brainstorming session, five bills were drafted and introduced in the 2005 Legislative Session. Womack and Key were successful in getting four of the five bills passed and signed into law. The fifth bill which dealt with minors possessing alcohol (commonly referred to as a "Consumption Law" in most states) did not pass. I still remember sitting beside Senator Womack giving testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee and being scolded by a former State Senator who told me I needed to stop picking on the kids. The Minor in Possession Bill was again introduced in the 2007 and 2009 sessions. Both times it again failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This year Senate Bill 811, sponsored by Senator Johnny Key and co-sponsored by Representative Karen Hopper, was introduced with a new approach. The idea was to simply remove one word from existing law -- remove the word "not". The Bill Drafter drafted Senate Bill 811 and removed three words, "shall not be" and replaced them with the word "is". Senator Key was successful in getting the bill passed through the Senate and, with the help of Representative Barry Hyde from Little Rock and Representative Karen Hopper, it passed through the House. After six long years of attempting to convince the Legislators to make this critical change, the process was completed in just three short days during the final three days of the Legislative Session. (click for TV news story)
Act 1152, Arkansas Minor's Consumption Law which goes into effect on July 27, 2011 will change current law to read (a) (2) "For the purposes of this section, intoxicating liquor, wine, or beer in the body of a minor is deemed to be in his or her possession." This means that a minor can be charged with possession of alcohol if they are proved to have alcohol in their body. No longer will law enforcement have to catch them with alcohol "in their hand", so to speak. This is an extremely powerful tool for law enforcement and we believe it will go a long way in saving lives and reducing serious injuries.
We will continue to do whatever we can to try to protect our youth and keep them safe. Education of the dangers and the enforcement of underage drinking have been and will continue to be our top priority.
Sheriff John Montgomery