Learning the consequences of underage drinking

Chisago County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Foster showed how a preliminary breath test works with the aid of a volunteer, Rush City High School sophomore Alissa Mell. Photo by Derrick Knutson

By Derrick Knutson— 

A contingent of students, parents and community leaders gathered at Rush City High School Monday evening to listen to a presentation by a panel of experts about the consequences associated with being convicted of an underage drinking violation.

Chisago County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Foster kicked off the discussion by noting juveniles might think they can get away with drinking at parties, but more often than not the Sheriff’s Office and local police departments are wise to the ways of the youngsters.

Someone usually contacts the Sheriff’s Office and tells us there’s going to be a party at a house, fish house or down by the river …,” he said. “We arrive and then do some intel to find out how many people are there.”

He said law enforcement is skilled in breaking up underage drinking parties, and lying to officers or running away is not advised because those are other crimes that could be charged by the county attorney’s office in addition to the underage drinking.

“It’s pretty obvious after doing this job for 14 years to tell who has been drinking and who hasn’t,” he said.

The juveniles who law enforcement determines have been drinking are slapped with a citation and a court date.

Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter’s office handles that step.

She stressed, “The overall goal of the juvenile justice system is to promote public responsibility.”

Reiter said the courts and judges want to turn behavior around in juveniles before they get out of control as adults.

Juveniles often are sentenced to probation for underage drinking, but the penalties can be more severe if multiple offenses have occurred or if a juvenile is particularly disrespectful while in court. In those cases, they can be sentenced to time in a juvenile detention facility in addition to community service and probation.

For less serious cases, Aaron Lynch, a community justice case manager with the Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau gets involved and works with youths through community service and educational classes about the consequences of underage drinking.

Loss of eligibility 

Coupled with the legal penalties are repercussions for students who participate in Minnesota State High School League-sanctioned activities.

Rush City High School Athletic Director Bob Schlagel said students sometime try to lie about underage drinking violations to him, but he is usually able to find out who is not being truthful.

“It makes no difference if the violation occurred in Todd County, Isanti County or Chisago County, I get notified by their sheriff offices,” he said.

Depending upon how many underage-drinking tickets a student has, he or she could be suspended from a sport or activity for weeks, months or even longer.

If a violation occurs, Schlagel noted honesty is the best policy because the penalties would likely end up being less severe.

“We are all going to make mistakes,” he said. “I just tell the kids up front, ‘Be honest.’”

Community Partnership with Youth and Families and Rush City Students Against Drunk Driving hosted the event.

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