Utah law has a “Not a Drop” policy in regards to underage drinking. Any person under the age of 21 who has any measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system can be ticketed for underage consumption, and subject to heavy fines, penalties, probation, and loss of a driver’s license.
As with any charge or ticket, these fines and penalties are subject to what representation is made on behalf of the individual who receives the ticket, and what arrangements are made with the court.
Chas Hollingshead had no such representation when he was ticketed for underage consumption, as he was unable to afford an attorney and a court-appointed lawyer did not contact him, he said.
As a result, at the age of 18, the first time he had ever become intoxicated and with a completely clean record, he was fined $500, required to take a Prime for Life class, which costs an additional $200, put on probation for one year, and had his driver’s license revoked for an entire year. He was not in possession of an automobile when ticketed.
Hollingshead was at a friend’s apartment following the wedding of a friend. There were mostly college students there over a wide range of ages and alcohol was available to the minors present. Hollingshead had never been in trouble of any kind in the past.
Police were called because of too much noise at approximately 11 p.m. The officers handed tickets to nine minors at the party, and each person received a different sentence.
None of the minors were near a car, nor had any plans on driving after the party, but all received a suspension of their driver’s license.
Attorney Keith Barnes said he is almost always successful in mitigating the loss of driving privileges for a client able to retain his services after having received such a ticket.
He said he negotiates terms on behalf of his clients wherein a set of responsibilities are agreed upon, which may still include the $500 fine, the $200 class, and even probation, but because a plea and abeyance or other arrangements are made, the case is not entered into the system as a guilty verdict and therefore the Department of Motor Vehicles does not suspend the license.
Barnes said he finds it interesting how things have changed from he was a youth in Provo.
“When I was a teenager, if officers picked up kids up for drinking, they would just take them home or have them call their parents and then they would let the parents handle it,” he said. “That’s not the way it is done anymore.”
Hollingshead said the whole experience just made him feel beaten down, a little hopeless, and like the system doesn’t really make sense, nor does it take into account what might make a person want to do better rather than just be bitter and broken.
“I know I shouldn’t have broken the law, and I think there should be consequences, but these seem a little heavy handed for the first time a person has ever been in trouble,” he said. “And the way it was handled by the police and especially the judge, was almost degrading and crushing. It didn’t make me think like ‘wow I really have to turn my life around,’ it just made me feel like total garbage.”
Hollingshead said he would understand his consequences if he were in trouble a lot, but it felt like the judge especially was extremely harsh and condescending in a manner that made even being teenager itself a crime.
Barnes also said he can’t even remember the last time he saw an officer give a warning to a teen caught drinking.
“They just seem to give tickets and no warning,” he said. “So it is automatic that the kids have to deal with this after even one time they made a bad choice.”
Barnes said the cost of legal fees vary depending on the attorney, but retaining legal services for this type of ticket will most likely cost between $700 and $1,000 in addition to the fines that must be paid to the court.
Hollingshead said it is really difficult to work, go to school, or get ahead to even pay the fines without a driver’s license. He said $700 is a lot of money to him and kids his age trying to make it and go to school. He said his friends also struggle to find a job and keep it without a license.
“It makes moving on with your life and paying the fines really difficult,” he said. “I do know there have to be laws and consequences, but I’m still not sure why, after never being in trouble before, I am on probation for a year or why this is handled in such a heavy manner.”
Cleave Weaver, football coach at Cedar High School, said he thinks it is an extreme measure to take a driver’s license for a year for drinking, especially for a first offense, but completely letting kids off without an understanding that drinking can lead to heavy addictions later in life, and not making them see the seriousness of it, is not a doing anyone a favor either.
Weaver said he thinks a bigger problem, however, is that the legal system favors those with money to navigate through legal troubles, while those without means are often unable to recover from even one mistake.
“Why should money determine how you are treated by the system? I see kids that grow up in tough situations, and they screw up just once and get themselves stuck in a quagmire and they can’t get out of it. Whereas another kid does the same thing who has money to hire an attorney, easily pay fines, gets a plea and abeyance, and it’s just a bump in the road for him, and not a problem that drags him down forever.”
Casey Anderson, Utah State Senator district 28, said he feels that acts regarding the personal choice by an 18-year-old boy that do not hurt anyone else should have little or no consequence. He said he knows there are reasons for the law, but the consequences are often counterproductive in the end.
Anderson added that in the current political climate in the state and the legislature it would take community involvement, letters, and emails to legislators and senators across the state to encourage review of the law.