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June 18, 2013
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Vail Daily column: Are you MIP-ed off?

Admit it; if you were running around in the woods recently north of Wolcott, then you may be just a little MIP-ed off. OK, bad pun. Sorry.

By all reports, here’s what happened.

A group of Battle Mountain High School kids were celebrating graduation. They determined that the way to do graduation justice was with an enormous kegger. Never mind that they were underage and it was against the law.

When the sheriff’s office got wind of the illicit goings on, deputies showed up to a less-than-embracing welcome. In the dark of night, kids scattered into the woods. To coax them out, at least one deputy assured the revelers that, if they came out of hiding, then they would not be cited. Oops; that turned out to be a little fib. Instead, 26 kids were charged with MIPs.

Some of the kids’ parents cried foul. I presume some of the kids got the 2013 version of a good lickin’. Emotions were stirred up.

Letters to the editor have been written. Opinions have filled these pages too. To his credit, Sheriff Hoy took on all comers at a public venting and firmly and politely stood his ground.

What has not been covered in all the brouhaha though is what, exactly, is an MIP?

Welcome to my bailiwick.

Colorado law provides that “any person younger than 21 years of age who possesses or consumes ethyl alcohol anywhere in the state of Colorado commits illegal possession or consumption of ethyl alcohol by an underage person.”

Note the two keys here; first, a person under 21 years old need not have actually consumed the alcohol. “Possession” alone is sufficient to have completed the offense. Prosecutors don’t have to explain why a minor had alcohol, only that the minor had it. Second, a person younger than 21 commits the offense if he possesses alcohol anywhere in the state. And, yeah, anywhere means anywhere, out in the woods or otherwise.

According to the Colorado legislature, “possession” of alcohol means that “a person has or holds any amount of ethyl alcohol anywhere on his person, or that a person owns or has custody of ethyl alcohol, or has ethyl alcohol within his immediate presence and control.”

This second part can be a little tricky; what, exactly does it mean that the minor has alcohol “within his immediate presence and control?” Does being stone-cold sober at a kegger suffice? Well, yeah … it could. And note that possession of any amount completes the crime.

Evidence of “possession” may include that the accused person was younger than 21 years old and possessed or consumed alcohol, or evidence that the defendant was under twenty-one and manifested characteristics of intoxication or impairment. Examples of these characteristics may include the smell of alcohol on the minor’s breath, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech or other factors.

Because being a minor in possession is considered a petty offense, the penalties for possession or consumption are not particularly severe. Yet, a conviction can have significant and long-lasting consequences. Unless the file is sealed or expunged, an MIP conviction may become part of the person’s criminal record. What’s more, most if not all colleges and universities have strict policies against the use and possession of alcohol by minors. Students who are arrested for minor in possession may face university sanctions in addition to — and which may be harsher than — the consequences in criminal court.

If one is convicted of an MIP or MIC (minor consuming alcohol), then the offense is punishable by a fine up to $250 for a first conviction, $500 for a second conviction and is a “jailable” class 2 misdemeanor for third and subsequent convictions.

Penalties may also include up to 24 hours of community service, an alcohol evaluation or assessment and an alcohol education program or alcohol treatment program. All of this, of course, at the defendant’s — or perhaps Mom’s and Pop’s — expense. When added to the cost of engaging an attorney, these costs are not inconsiderable.

In addition to all the other “inconveniences” — facing criminal charges and potential penalties, potentially carrying around a criminal record, having to perform community service, college and/or university sanction, potentially affecting eligibility to participate in sports and other such activities, and, not to be forgotten, the costs — the Department of Revenue will also come a’callin’.

The Department may revoke the driver’s license of any person convicted of an MIP or MIC. For a first conviction, the driver’s license revocation will be for three months unless required alcohol classes are completed. For the second conviction, the revocation will be for six months.

For a third or subsequent conviction, the sanction is one year. Following the period of revocation, certain steps (including paying a reinstatement fee and retaking both the written and the driving tests) must be taken to reinstate the driver’s license.

All in all, regardless of your moral compass, what one should realize is that being MIP or MIC is simply against the law. And there are consequences for your actions.

Next time, on balance, maybe skip the kegger. The hassles you may be avoiding will certainly outweigh the buzz.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, robbins@slblaw.com or robbins@colorado.net.

Some of the kids’ parents cried foul. I presume some of the kids got the 2013 version of a good lickin’. Emotions were stirred up.


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The VailDaily Updated Jun 18, 2013 06:24PM Published Jun 18, 2013 06:24PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.