Aug 192007
Authors: Kathleen Harward Director of Student Legal Services

College and drinking go together like vodka and orange juice, right? Isn’t college partying just part of growing up?

If you think this, you might also assume law enforcement, city and university officials will be lenient with you.

Not so. Some places do give you a break, but not Fort Collins.

Underage drinking here will get you a MIP (Minor in Possession). While technically a “petty” offense, the consequences are anything but.

For a first offense, the fine is $250. You’ll be ordered to perform 24 hours of useful public service (costing $80 to set up), and you’ll have to complete a costly alcohol evaluation and education program at your expense.

The kicker-you’ll also lose your driver’s license for three months. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t anywhere near the wheel of a car-it’s a required penalty that comes with an MIP conviction. To reinstate your license, you’ll have to take the drivers’ test and show proof of insurance. Car insurance is expensive enough when you’re a young driver. The revocation could make it prohibitive. It’s hard to keep parents out of this loop, because you’ll probably need their help.

By contrast, if you were to get your first MIP in Boulder, you would be eligible for a “diversion” program. You’d complete an all day alcohol class and your charges would be dismissed. Since there is no conviction under this scenario, you wouldn’t lose your driver’s license. Fort Collins has no such a program.

I am not, however, suggesting you drive to Boulder to party. That could land you a DUI-Driving Under the Influence-and, more importantly, put you and others on the road in danger.

The consequences for DUI make an MIP look easy. For a first offense you’re looking at loss of your license for a year, possible jail time, 96 hours of community service, alcohol class and you can count on paying between $800 to $3,500 in fines and costs alone, not including attorney’s fees and insurance consequences.

Any person of any age is presumed “under the influence” if their blood or breath alcohol content (BAC) is .08 or higher, but as a minor, you only need a BAC of .02 to get charged with Underage Drinking and Driving (UDD). One drink can bring you to .02.

About the only way you can legally drink in Colorado when you’re under twenty-one is when you’re on private property, the property owner consents, and your parents are present and consent as well.

Does this mean you can tailgate with your parents at a CSU football game if one of them hands you a beer and stands with you while you drink it? The answer depends on whether Hughes Stadium would be considered private property. You better not.

Maybe you figure you’ll attend parties but abstain from drinking. Believe it or not, you can be charged with MIP simply because your friend’s beer is next to you on the table. If it’s within your “immediate presence and control” you can be charged.

Speaking of your friends, a new provision was added to the MIP law in 2005 that protects you from getting charged when you call for help for a friend. People die from high alcohol levels. If you are the first person to make a 911 report that another underage person is in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption, and you give your name to the dispatcher and remain on the scene and cooperate when assistance arrives, you are immune from prosecution.

If you’re determined to drink alcohol as a minor (or break the law at any age), you need to remember your Fourth Amendment rights. As Rob Lowrey in our office puts it, “You don’t have to answer the door any more than you have to answer the phone.” If the police don’t have a warrant, you don’t have to let them in. If they think your case falls within the exception where a warrant isn’t needed, they won’t ask and you should not physically stop them. Look through the security hole of your door before you open it. If you see police uniforms, you can choose to silence the party and outwait the officers who are in the hallway.

They may tell you that if you don’t let them in, they’ll seek a warrant. In many instances, they’re bluffing. They don’t want to go to the trouble of getting a warrant. It takes time. They’ll have to post an officer outside the door so that you don’t just disband the party. If it’s late at night they’ll have to wake up a judge to sign a warrant. Even if they do go for a warrant and come back, you’re not likely any worse off than if you let them in immediately. I think the police would take issue with me and argue that if you let them in voluntarily, they’ll go easy on you. That is not my experience, however.

I am certainly not giving you a prescription to break the law. You can’t be sure that a party mate won’t wildly swing open the door to a police officer before you have time to check who’s outside. Even if you do manage to keep your door closed and avoid police charges one time, you deal every day with your residence hall assistants. They know who is doing what. They have their own sanctions to apply to you, as well as referring you to Student Conduct Services /- the university department that enforces the Student Conduct Code and can impose consequences that stay on your school record and are discoverable by future employers.

Friday at the Ram Welcome fair I talked to many students who stopped by our table. I learned that many don’t think of drinking as an inevitable part of college. Students may not realize that others share this opinion. CSU recently received a grant to work at correcting the misperception among students that all their peers are drinking so they must, too.

Research shows, however, that few college students binge drink, but the perception, especially among new students, is that most do.

In the 1983 movie Risky Business, Tom Cruise made partying look fun. But as the t-shirt saying goes: It’s all fun and games until the cops arrive.

Kathleen Harward is the director of Student Legal Services. Her column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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