Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

A $467 beer? The cost of underage drinking

Police work to catch minors in possession

May 20, 2007


A bar near the Kansas University campus draws lines of KU students and the attention of police. In a university town like Lawrence, underage drinking is common, as are tickets for minors in possession of alcohol, or MIPs. About one-third of last year's MIP cases were put into a diversion program, which takes the offense off the the minor's criminal record.

A bar near the Kansas University campus draws lines of KU students and the attention of police. In a university town like Lawrence, underage drinking is common, as are tickets for minors in possession of alcohol, or MIPs. About one-third of last year's MIP cases were put into a diversion program, which takes the offense off the the minor's criminal record.

Lawrence City prosecutor Jerry Little

Lawrence City prosecutor Jerry Little talks about the penalties for a minor in possession charge. Enlarge video

When Reid Walter walks into a bar, people pay attention.

Quick glances are made, drinks are put down and the most noticeable of all is a rolling echo that bounces throughout the bar announcing his presence. "The cops are here," they say.

In the case Thursday night, it was just one cop, Walter. He was patrolling the bars just off Kansas University's campus, checking for underage drinking.

He looked for those who took a quick drink, made eye contact and abruptly set the drink down. And for the ones who sat awkwardly with their drink above the table and their hands folded underneath.

Walter stood back from the door, watched, waited and hoped the crowd would quickly forget he was there.

It's an acquired skill, he said, picking out those under 21.

Of the hundreds of minors charged with possessing alcohol each year in Lawrence, the majority come from bar or liquor store checks.

With the ending of final exams and the beginning of graduation season, the past week is one of the busiest for minors being ticketed for possessing alcohol, Lawrence City Prosecutor Jerry Little said.

But it is an offense that at least one minor will get caught doing nearly every week in Lawrence.

For 2006, Lawrence Municipal Court records show there were 438 cases of minors in possession of alcohol, or MIPs. The court has processed 98 cases of MIPs so far in 2007.

The numbers are by far the largest in Douglas County. Other nearby communities - such as Eudora, Baldwin City, Tonganoxie and Basehor - tally a couple dozen MIP cases a year, if that.

The reason, law enforcement officials say, is because Lawrence is a college town and has a host of bars attracting those under 21.

In the grand legal scheme, a charge of being a minor in possession of alcohol is, well, a minor offense. But for cash-strapped students, it can result in a hefty expense and a blemish on a record that could be viewed by prospective employers.

"I think most people are aware there are certainly consequences to it. They might not understand the nature and seriousness of the consequences until they get nailed for it," Little said.

Add it up

In Lawrence, MIPs result in a $300 fine. Offenders also are threatened with jail time and a 30-day suspension of their driver's license.

For those who don't have a criminal record, they can enter a diversion program.

"Diversion is not a conviction. It is basically a contract you sign, agreeing to do certain things during the year, like going to alcohol class, pay the money and stay out of trouble. And, at the end, we will dismiss the case," Little said.

According to Lawrence Municipal Court records, about one-third of last year's MIP cases were put into the diversion program. Another third were amended to lesser charges, such as minors in consumption of alcohol and possession of alcohol in public.

Little said the system is set up to give first-time offenders a break.

"Because they got caught when they were under 21 with a beer, drinking, we don't necessarily want them to have a criminal record that is going to affect them for the rest of their life. But we do want them to have consequences to their actions," Little said.

Those who get a second MIP could have their driver's license suspended up to 90 days, a higher fine and the possibility of spending a weekend in jail.

Out of 100 cases, Little said, maybe two offenders are back a second time.

Legal defense

A good portion of the students at KU who receive MIPs come through the school's Legal Services for Students.

"It's their first time in front of a judge, first time in a legal system. They are not crazy about telling Mom and Dad so they come to us," said Jo Hardesty, director and managing attorney for Legal Services for Students.

The department can't represent students in court for criminal matters, but the attorneys can explain the process, talk about the student's rights and advise the student to get a copy of the police report, Hardesty said. Because many students enter into diversion agreements, most don't hire attorneys.

'A little more wary'

Students say the consequences of an MIP are real.

Douglas Campbell, a 19-year-old KU freshman, said he lived off of campus food and ramen noodles for a few months so he could use his grocery money to help pay the almost $500 price tag for his MIP ordeal.

Before Campbell was issued an MIP ticket last winter, his only encounter with the law had been traffic tickets. So, Campbell was surprised when he found out an MIP was quite a bit stronger than a "slap on the wrist."

Campbell said when he received the ticket, the police officer told him there would be a fine and he would have to appear in front of a judge.

"I was thinking it wouldn't be that bad," Campbell said.

Deciding it wasn't worth the cost to hire an attorney, Campbell navigated the court system on his own, which he said wasn't easy. The process seemed rushed and at one point he felt he was spinning in circles.

To keep the MIP off his record, Campbell said, he decided to do the diversion program. Along with the $300 fine, he paid $52 for court costs, $30 for a diversion application and $85 to go through an alcohol education class.

And, Campbell has to stay out of legal trouble for the next couple of months or he has to go through the process all over again and the MIP could stay on his record.

It's a threat that Campbell said he heeds.

"At least for me and my friends, it didn't stop us from drinking," Campbell said. "But it did make us a little more wary to go out to parties and go to bars; it certainly affected that."

An even costlier ticket

Just days before Jordan O'Grady was to end his yearlong diversion for receiving a driving under the influence charge, he was given an MIP.

The 20-year-old KU sophomore was caught in a bar drinking beer while watching a KU basketball game.

Because O'Grady was already facing legal trouble for driving under the influence, or DUI, the diversion program was not available to him. O'Grady's driver's license was suspended for 30 days and he had to pay the $300 fine and court costs.

The expenses didn't stop there. O'Grady's ROTC scholarship was suspended because of the DUI and it cost him a few thousand dollars to hire an attorney for both the DUI and MIP cases.

"It definitely opened my eyes. I was already in trouble so I better ... straighten my act up," O'Grady said.

To pay off his debt to his father, who covered the legal costs, O'Grady said he has been going home on weekends to work around the house.

While O'Grady said he still drinks alcohol, he claims to be more responsible and stays away from bars.

O'Grady fears having an MIP on his record could hurt come graduation time when prospective employers come across the conviction.

"While almost every college student drinks underage, it shows who is responsible enough to do it and not get into trouble," he said.

The bar vs. party scene

Since 2002, almost 1,000 tickets have been written to minors caught drinking in bars or buying alcohol from liquor stores in Lawrence, according to data collected from Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control.

With close to 245 violations on record, The Hawk leads the way in the number of MIPs given out per establishment.

Tom Devlin is one of the owners of The Hawk, which is right off campus on Ohio Street. He said the bar is visited by police officers more than other drinking establishments in town - leading to more MIPs being issued.

The Hawk has a surveillance camera set up to record every transaction that takes place between those coming through the door and the person checking their IDs, Devlin said.

The bar owners have an ongoing case with Alcoholic Beverage Control, which has sought to revoke the bar's liquor license. The owners are appealing tickets they have received for underage drinking. In the past, the bar has paid fines for the violations.

Joe Garman, statewide enforcement coordinator for Alcoholic Beverage Control, said checking bars and liquor stores for minors is a much more efficient use of officer manpower than patrolling for house parties.

"Unless you have information on parties, it is really hard to find," Garman said.

However, for smaller towns such as Tonganoxie and Baldwin City, most of the underage drinking occurs at private parties.

Tonganoxie Police Chief Kenny Carpenter said it's a tough job when a party is busted and youths scatter.

"If you have two police officers on duty and 50 people at the party, it is pretty hard to handle," Carpenter said.

Baldwin City Police Chief Mike McKenna said most of the city's MIP charges come from parties. And much of the time, the department is alerted to the parties by upset neighbors. Baldwin City is home to Baker University.

Lasting impressions

Garman doesn't believe the minors who receive MIPs stop drinking. But he believes the law still should be enforced.

"I'm kind of old school. If I got a law that says don't do this, you have to do your job," Garman said.

Little, the Lawrence prosecutor, believes issuing MIPs works, but acknowledged the threat of MIPs doesn't stop underage drinking.

"As long as there is a university here and people under 21 get together and peer pressure and bars are around, it is going to continue on," he said. "All we can do is hope we can curb it as much as possible."


Richard Heckler 10 years, 11 months ago

Small towns do not want to bust those too young to for LEGAL drinking because of the fact they are small towns and everyone knows so goes kinda like pretending it is not happening....but everybody knows what kids belong to who.

The resources should be spent on DUI/DWI. Undercover law enforcement could hang around bars and notice who has had too many then bust them as they leave if they are behind the wheel. This to me is the more serious offense that deserves more resources. Save the court/prosecutor time and space for serious offenses. I feel the same about marijuana as there are bigger issues on a community platter.

jayhawks71 10 years, 11 months ago

Notice, though, the real story of O'Grady. This incident of MIP basically set the stage for ruining his life. Now, he may have trouble getting a job (thanks to this) and will have an increased chance (because of this) of turning to crime later in life. He hadn't reached that magical age, where all of a sudden wisdom and intelligent choices prevail, because of course, it is rare for people to make silly alcohol-related mistakes after age 21! He would have been old enough to go to Iraq and, ostensibly, mature enough to follow orders, carry a gun, and protect a nation, but not to drink a beverage in which yeast sat around for a while.

But in the end, the title of the article tells the tale, $467 dollars for a beer? Only when the government is involved in the sale of that beer! Revenue, revenue, revenue. What's next, speed traps?

classclown 10 years, 11 months ago

How about no one under 21 is not allowed in any of the establishments that sell alcohol and check ID's? Just keep them out.

Leprechaunking13 10 years, 11 months ago

It's cause we have too many friggin cops with nothin else to do but look for someone, anyone to bust for anything. Why should we have so many cops on duty that they have the man power to patrol bars all over town and are doing the job of the ABC? That's the reason when you get pulled over now 2 other cop cars show up as well. Our population as town is not growing so fast that we need 3 cop cars for a traffic stop. Plus the city is taking a budget cut and we're hiring on TWO MORE officers to the LPD, seems kind of stupid to me since we have what 50 or so on the LPD already! Not to mention the other law enforcement agencies we have going through this town. KUPD, DGSD, KHP, LPD that's 4 agencies all with the same powers! Maybe we should stop adding more and more cops to this so the officers we have can do the job that they're supposed to be doing instead of having nothing to do except start patrolling college bars full of college students looking for kids drinking who are about to turn 21 anyways. Waste of the students money and waste of tax dollars to pay the cops doing this, there is a reason that the ABC has officers going to bars and busting minors....SO THE POLICE DON1T HAVE TO!!!!!!!!!

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 11 months ago

O'Grady was given a second chance with his DUI, but he couldn't stay away from drinking even then. I would say he has a drinking problem. He even says, after all this trouble he's still drinking. I sure hope he doesn't kill someone you love next time he jumps into that car after he is protesting his right to drink (feed his obvious addiction), because he's old enough to go to war. Many, not all, young people drink, because they feel that's how they can be accepted, considered "cool", but if they get into trouble, they will most likely stop. This guy has an addiction. The statistics at the following site are kind of depressing, but not all young people drink. They can make other choices. I feel sorry for people who can't have fun without getting drunk. They are sad, sad people.

Steve Jacob 10 years, 11 months ago

You have to punish harder the places that sell these minors beer. Lowering the drink age to 18 WILL kill more people on the road. And if you already had a DUI, anthing else you deserve.

Leprechaunking13 10 years, 11 months ago

Good point Marion, it's like the parents who think their kid has stopped drinking or doing drugs just because the parents caught them once. No they just got smarter about how to cover it up. Dorothy, O gradys second offense was him sitting in a bar watching a KU basketball game, his OBVIOUS addiction, wasn't behind the wheel of a car. Maybe you didnt understand that his second offense wasn't a second DUI, not to mention he was days away from being off his punishment a lighter sentence should be enforced with him not ruining his life so the city can collect an extra grand off a college kid. Or so that a scumbag cop can feel better about his job.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 11 months ago

The only whining I hear going on are from the people who can't control their alcohol consumption. Drinking doesn't hurt anyone but the person drinking right? "Why can't I have my beer, I'm old enough to go to war and kill people. Why not let me kill people here too? I'm only hurting myself. Just because I got drunk and knocked up some chick, now she wants me to pay child support. I offered to pay for her abortion. Now they want to send me to jail, because I ran that red light. That old lady wouldn't have died if she wasn't driving at 3:00am anyway. I only drink at night. Why is everyone always picking on me. I'm just trying to have some fun." Whine, whine, whine. Buy a still, go into the wilderness, and don't bother the rest of us, please.

By the way, our son when he was caught smoking pot when he was 13. We put him into therapy, grounded him for a year, and now he is what they call a "straight edger". He doen't drink, smoke pot, and he's even become a vegetarian. So don't tell me that once a kid starts drinking and doing drugs they won't stop, because they got caught.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 11 months ago

Oh more whining. "I'm suing KU, becasue I got drunk and wanted a smoke, so I climbed out of the window and fell. They should let us smoke wherever we want. Who cares if my roomie has asthma. And they want to throw me out of the dorm, because I'm only 18 and was drinking. My parents didn't throw me out when I was drinking. They just threw me a kegger. I'm going back home and live with them. They don't pick on me." "I'm suing my friends parents, because I got drunk and went out on the roof of the house and fell off. Why didn't they put a railing on that roof? They should know drunks lose their balance."

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 11 months ago

By the way, if O'Grady had joined the fulltime Army, he could be allowed to drink on base, in special circustances. It's at the discretion of the commanders. So those 18 year olds who do join are allowed to drink much of the time. Why didn't O'Grady just join up, go to war, then come back and attend college?

fletch 10 years, 11 months ago

Moral of the story: drink at parties, not bars.

average 10 years, 11 months ago

I've wondered what would happen if we raised the driving age to 18 or 19. Suddenly, Lawrence and Manhattan would each have 5000 inexperienced drivers each year in an new environment away from the moderating influence of home. Total lunacy. Yet, that's exactly what we do with alcohol. I think 15-17 is the right time to first interact with alcohol.

hanni213 10 years, 11 months ago

I don't know what time the magical appropriate drinking age is. If it means alcohol abuse, any age is inappropriate. On the other hand if children are raised learning what responsible drinking is, and that alcohol is not taboo, many problems can be prevented.

Drinking age used to be 18, after it was raised to 21 and we still have problems, I heard some people suggest to raise the drinking age to 26.

Seems ridiculous, why don't we just raise the drinking age to 80. This way most people don't drive anymore anyway.

How about inforcing the laws more consistently. Random road blocks have made the world of difference in some European countries. There people drink more frequently and at a younger age. Not that they don't have any problems, but since road blocks after midnight are very common--with random sobriety checks--people usually call a cab after drinking.

blackwalnut 10 years, 11 months ago

Let 19 year olds drink, and triple the penalties for DUIs.

hanni213 10 years, 11 months ago

How about loss of license for 1 year first offense, and permanently on the 2nd like some other countries. Some states here have stiff penalties similar to this. North Carolina passed the "Save Roads Act" about 30 years ago, that really has helped drinking and driving violations--even though the passengers are allowed to drink in the vehicle there, they have much fewer DUIs.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 11 months ago

It just seems like young people think that if you have a beer, you need to have 20 more so you can get drunk. I wouldn't care if these young people were having 1 beer watching a game, but you know they won't stop at one. Until we change the culture of binge drinking you're going to have to enforce limits to keep everyone else safe, when they drive. If they hurt themselves following out of windows, well too bad, so sad. It's their own fault.

warthog 10 years, 11 months ago

These "youngsters" know the law. They know the penalty. And yet, when they get caught, they cry that it is law enforcement's fault for enforcing the laws. Is it hypocrisy, like Marion said. Yes, it is. But it's also the law. There are laws that I don't like, also, such as those darned, pesky speed limits. If I get caught, however, I really can't blame anyone but myself.

jayhawks71 10 years, 11 months ago

dorothy, nice point. He has a problem that a 467 dollar "ticket" isn't going to fix. So how does our society punish? By doing something that isn't going to reduce the occurrence of the behavior. By definition, a "punishment" that fails to do that is itself, a failed punishment.

Tom McCune 10 years, 11 months ago

Old hippies arise from your slumber and unite. 3.2 beer at age 18 like it used to be. Legaize recreational pot. Fight to defend free speech.

DUI = serious trouble whether alcohol or anything else impairing Excessive noise or public nuisance = less serious trouble, but still trouble

mr_economy 10 years, 11 months ago

Dorothy, you wonder why underage drinkers turn to binge drinking, when the answer is contained in the title of the article - you're punished exactly the same for underage drinking whether there is just the one beer in your hand, or the one beer in your hand plus 20 in your stomach. If I'm going to risk $467, as the title implies, I am most certainly going to get my money's worth in booze. Irony of all ironies, the failed punitive system is also one of the driving forces behind underage binge drinking.

The other answer to your inquiry was mentioned in a previous post - driving and drinking do share one thing in common, in that they are both potentially deadly activities if not undertaken with proper care and instruction. We spend hundreds of dollars on high school driver's ed classes, parents spend hours with their kids driving so they can log the requisite hours of driving time. And by the time the kids leave home, they (should) have the skills necessary to be a safe driver.

With alcohol, on the other hand, there is no talk about safe usage. Just like with sex, the only answer we're permitted/expected to give is one promoting abstinence. "Responsible use of alcohol??? There isn't such a thing! Don't do it, and if you do you're grounded for life!". Yeah, that works real well for both sex and alcohol, doesn't it? Anyone whose head is high enough above the clouds to believe it does work needs a healthy dose of reality.

The reality with alcohol is that kids often learn moderation the hard way. My lesson on moderation came in the form of mild alcohol poisoning and a 36-hour hangover. Worked remarkably well in that I haven't gone past my limit since, but there are far more constructive ways to arrive at the same place, sans dangerous situations.

reginafliangie 10 years, 11 months ago

This is for leprechaun: I think it would be very benefical for you to do a citizens academey with the police department. You might get your questions answered. From somebody who has attended. I can tell you the reason you might see more than one officer on a traffic stop is for the main reason of the driver or passengers being wanted (i.e. has a warrant) or the subjects in the car have drug and or alcohol items or weapons in the car. There is only one officer in a patrol car, unless they are training and the reason for multiple officers is for officer safety. It's hard enough and scarey enough pulling somebody over for a traffic infraction, but then finding those items or finding out that one or more persons in a car is wanted it doubly so. I sure know I would like to have additional help around if I was dealing with this type of situation. Most car stops are done with one officer/car, but there are times when more is warranted. It's not because they don't have anything else better to do, because they do. Trust me, that radio never shuts up. As for the other issue of underage drinking, dorothy pretty much summed up my feelings over and over again. Just FYI, if you do happen to get a ticket from an ABC rep, don't call the Lawrence Police Dept. They can't fix it or change it, it came from a totally different agency that the LPD can't do anything about.

valgrlku 10 years, 11 months ago

I've often wondered why local police don't do more roadblocks or at the very least, nab people on their way out of the bar at 2 a.m. for drunk driving. Seems like they could arrest at least 50 drunk drivers EVERY night of the week here.

It would be a better use of time and energy to do this, rather than sitting on Maine street between 9th and 7th nearly EVERYDAY for hours on end or jumping out of the bushes into the street and pulling cars over for doing 28 in a 20 mph zone!! These two blocks must be the safest places in Lawrence!!

Why not stake out 9th street any night (or day for that matter) of the week and pull over people who are REALLY jeopordizing our safety via excessive speed, running red lights, or driving drunk?

Escapee 10 years, 11 months ago

Having 'escaped' Lawrence to the world beyond its borders...I am happy to report that there still are: 1. parents of high schoolers who do not 'turn their heads' from teens who have chosen to break the law with regard to alcohol consumption, in fact they PUNISH them -- look it up, Lawrence, P-U-N-I-S-H; and 2. there are also PD's who will take on PARENTS who permit such activities knowingly in/on their properties; and 3. there are teens who DO LEARN RIGHT FROM WRONG AFTER PARTICIPATING OR WITNESSING SUCH INCIDENTS. You know, it just never fails to amaze me the way so many people are just willing to say: 'Hey, that's the way it is; it'll never change.' It isn't this way in other places, Lawrence. You have a serious problem with the teens of your municipality...and dare I say...they probably aren't to blame for it....

maxcrabb 10 years, 10 months ago

My suggestion? Move close to downtown and student ghetto.

WALK to the bars and parties.

Haven't had a close call yet (just look both ways before crossing the street. you know, drunk drivers)

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