Teens caught drinking now face criminal charges
Two law enforcement agencies are using stricter penalties and stronger enforcement to combat widespread underage drinking at South Shore.
Douglas County switched its punishment for minors in possession of alcohol on July 15. What used to be a crime that was punishable by a ticket for the first time is now a misdemeanor.
“It is a misdemeanor, an arrestable offense, for a person under the age of 21 to consume, possess or to be under the influence of any alcoholic beverage in Douglas County,” stated Sgt. Tim Mezzetta.
“It gives this law a little more teeth,” said Undersheriff Bob Rudnick.
Besides stiffer punishment, the new ordinance includes possession of alcohol by a minor, said Mike McCormick, deputy district attorney for Douglas County.
McCormick drafted the new ordinance. He said a recurring problem was juveniles knew the first offense was a citation and a $100 fine. They would pay it and sometimes return a month or two later, he said.
“I think it just gives us a better opportunity to work with this to try and stem juvenile drinking before it gets carried away,” he said.
In June 2003, the sheriff’s department combined efforts with the juvenile probation office, district attorney’s office and school district to combat underage drinking.
The four agencies created Douglas Underage Drinking Enforcement, or D.U.D.E. Since its inception, 347 criminal citations have been issued for minors in possession of alcohol, Mezzetta said.
“Of course, citations are still an option and it shall be of the officer’s discretion whether to issue a citation carrying a mandatory court appearance or to affect an arrest of those in violation of this ordinance,” Mezzetta said.
Some Douglas County youths felt minors will drink no matter how stringent the punishment.
“For some reason kids like to party and they like to drink,” said Kyle Olsen, 18. “Whether the laws are tougher I think won’t make a big difference.”
Haley Shaw, 18, feels the social acceptance of minors and alcohol is preferable in other countries.
“In America there is such a heavy emphasis on not doing something that it makes (people) go the other way,” she said.
Shaw supported tougher measures on alcohol consumption by minors.
– E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com.