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Educating the Adults Who Promote Underage Drinking

Educating the Adults Who Promote Underage Drinking

As I sit in my hotel room tonight it only seems appropriate that the subject for this Message from the Sheriff be about our youth and alcohol.  I have been attending the 4th Annual Arkansas Underage Drinking Prevention Conference hosted by the Little Rock Police Department and the Department of Finance and Administration.   This has been a great conference -- the experts have discussed many issues ranging from social acceptance to the scientific data relating to the development of the brain in teenagers. 

 Underage drinking is absolutely on the minds of most of the other attendees at this conference.  They experience many of the same issues in their communities as we do.   While listening to the discussions, it occurred to me that there is a lack of education for both adults and the youth regarding the legal aspects and penalties.  Allow me to share some of the consequences and issues with underage drinking.

 Research has shown the best deterrent to drinking and driving for both adults and youth is enforcement.  Enforcement is also a major deterrent for underage alcohol consumption.  In the past, Baxter County experienced numerous tragedies with youth being seriously injured or killed in alcohol-related accidents and we in law enforcement made a commitment to try and stop that trend.  We have and continue to use increased enforcement and constantly work with our legislators to create stiffer penalties and stronger laws to give authorities better tools to crack down on not only the youth who consume but also the adults who facilitate, provide or encourage underage drinking

 Before we take a look at the laws surrounding adults who contribute to underage drinking, let’s review the existing laws targeted specifically towards youth:

 Drinking and Driving:  The law for anyone under 21 years of age who drives with an alcohol content of .02% up to .079% is guilty of DUI (Driving under the influence, underage).  For a young person this could be as little as one beer.   No matter what their age if they check .08% or higher they are guilty of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated).  Both DUI and DWI stay on your driving record for a minimum of five (5) years which usually results in higher insurance premiums.

 Minor in Possession of AlcoholIt is illegal for a ‘Minor’, person under 21 years of age, to possess alcohol.  This used to be a major problem for law enforcement because of the word ‘possession’ and what the legal definition constituted.  As of last July, a new law went into effect that greatly increased law enforcement’s ability to enforce this law.  Now the mere presence of alcohol in the body of a minor is prima facie evidence of ‘possession’ of alcohol.  This is commonly referred to as a consumption law.  If a minor is convicted, they will lose their license for a minimum of 120 days.  Arkansas 3-3-203 (a) (1) It is unlawful for any person under twenty-one (21) years of age to purchase or have in his or her possession any intoxicating liquor, wine, or beer. (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.

 Possession of Fraudulent or Altered Personal Identification DocumentIn the old days a fake ID was not that difficult to obtain or many times could be made fairly easy.  With the September 11 (9-11) fallout, Homeland Security has mandated that all of the States improve the security of their Driver’s License and ID Cards.  In the beginning this helped due to the difficulty to reproduce the ID.  Now via the internet, fraudulent IDs can be ordered (mainly from the Country of China). These IDs are so well made that they cannot be detected except with a trained eye and proper equipment.  Arkansas 5-27-503 (a) It shall be unlawful for: (1) a person to possess a fraudulent or altered personal identification document for the purpose of providing a person under 21 identification which can be used for the purpose of purchasing alcoholic beverages…; (2) a person under 21 to possess a fraudulent of altered personal identification document which can be used for the purpose of purchasing alcoholic beverages…; or (3) a person under 21 to attempt to use a fraudulent or altered personal identification document for the purpose of purchasing alcoholic beverages illegally…

 I attended a fascinating session on the issue of ‘fake IDs’ and came away with several initiatives that will help my officers and businesses more accurately detect the latest collection of sophisticated fake ideas.  I will share more about this in future Messages from the Sheriff.

 While we’ve made important strides to strengthen the laws on combating the underage drinking problem on the youth side as described above, the problem cannot be combated by law enforcement alone.  We must educate and hold the adults accountable.  The alcohol has to get in the hands of our teenagers somehow, whether it is purchased by them directly, purchased by an adult for them or even taken from a parent’s or friend’s home -- they are getting it somehow and in one way or another it involves adults.  Let’s take a look at some of the laws targeting the adults who furnish alcohol.

 Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor:  There are several laws aimed at adults who furnish or facilitate minors possessing or consuming alcohol.  If it is an outright purchase or furnishing of alcohol, the adult is guilty of Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor.  This is a Class A Misdemeanor with a penalty of up to a year in jail.  If there is a profit involved (the adults collects money or profit for furnishing the alcohol), it becomes a Class D felony with a penalty of up to 6 years in Prison.  Arkansas Statue 3-3-202 (a)(1) It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to give, procure, or otherwise furnish any alcoholic beverage to any person under twenty-one (21) years of age. (b)(1) It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to sell or otherwise furnish for money or other valuable consideration any alcoholic beverage to any person under twenty-one (21) years of age. (2)(A) Upon a first conviction, any person violating this subsection shall be guilty of a Class D felony and shall be punished as provided by law. (B) Upon a second conviction within five (5) years, a person violating this section shall be deemed guilty of a Class C felony and may be imprisoned or fined, or both as provided by law.

Unknowingly Furnishing or Selling to a Minor:  Adults beware as Arkansas Law also makes it a crime to sell or give away alcohol to a  ‘Minor” even if you are unaware the person is underage.  Arkansas Statue 3-3-201 (a) Any person who shall unknowingly sell, give away, or otherwise dispose of intoxicating liquor to a minor shall be guilty of a violation and punished by a fine of not less than two hundred dollars ($200) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500) for the first offense. (b) For the second and subsequent offenses, he or she shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor: This law applies to any adult who allows, promotes or facilitates any ‘Minor’ in doing anything illegal.  Providing alcohol or allowing a ‘Minor’ to consume alcohol or even providing the venue is illegal.  Arkansas 5-27-209 a) A person commits the offense of contributing to the delinquency of a minor if, being an adult, the person knowingly aids, causes, or encourages a minor to: (1) Do any act prohibited by law;

 Social Host:  This term basically means an adult cannot allow ‘Minors’ to drink alcohol on their property or any property of which they have control.  This applies if the adult allows ‘Minors’ to use a garage, basement, barn or even a rented hotel room or other area for that purpose.  Many parents think that it’s OK to allow the kids to drink and take their keys to keep them from driving.  Although this might be slightly better, it still has potential serious consequences with binge drinking, sexual assaults, injuries and death.  There is a potential for civil liability AND it’s against the law. Arkansas 3-3-219   (a)(1) A person who exercises control over private property shall not knowingly allow a person under twenty-one (21) years of age who is not a family member of the person to consume alcohol on the private property.

 The underage drinking problem is significant, not just in Baxter County or the State of Arkansas, but is a national issue with serious consequences.  Research is showing some alarming facts and trends.  Although teenagers don’t drink as often as adults, they drink more heavily and binge drink much more often.  Research has shown that the number of teenagers who drink to get ‘drunk’ rather than to drink socially has increased significantly in the past few years.  A high percentage of youth admit they were drinking alcohol the first time they tried methamphetamine and other illegal drugs.  From a medical perspective, research shows that the part of the brain dealing with decision processing does not develop fully until mid- to late- twenties and alcohol permanently affects the development of those brain cells based upon the amount of consumption.

 You may think that the worst phone call you could receive is a request to pick up your child from jail, but it does not compare to the phone call that your child or a child you allowed to consume alcohol is in the hospital or dead.  Do not facilitate, provide or encourage underage drinking – even in your home, boat or a hotel room. 

Sheriff John Montgomery