In 2018, a Minor in Possession charge is now a civil infraction. Prior to this year, this offense was a criminal misdemeanor. That seems like good news for my clients, and it sounded great to the lawmakers who created the law, but things are NOT playing out in a favorable way for people in Michigan. Yes, it is a win for someone not to have a criminal record for underage drinking, but there are a ton of collateral consequences, many of these issues, which I am fixing for people who screwed up their own case or received poor advice from other lawyers.
Prior to 2018, if you were charged with an MIP, you would likely plead guilty under a first offender program, do some probation, pay a fine, and your record is clear with no paper trail of the offense. Your case was non-public and you did not have to report it as a criminal conviction. Now, people are going into court, pleading responsible to the civil infraction of Minor in Possession, but this is a public record. Very public, just like a traffic ticket.
Sure it's not a criminal case, but it comes up and the facts/evidence are not any different. It's also a crime in most states, and I have had a client plead responsible to the civil infraction in Michigan, but his home state still suspended his license for 12 months, because that state still considered it a criminal offense. I've had clients get fired from a job because their employer had this on their record, and the employer didn't care if it was a crime or not, it just meant the same to them - breaking the law with alcohol.
This same logic would certainly apply to a grad school, employer, a scholarship committee etc. Let's evaluate someone who received an MIP in 2017 vs 2018.
In 2017, in a reasonable worse case scenario, the person would go on probation on the first offender program, excel, have the case dismissed, and the arrest/charge and plea would all be non-public. On applications there would be no need to put the offense, and there would be no record of it at the courthouse or on a public database. This person is safe from their past impacting their future plans.
In 2018, a Minor in Possession pops up in that same search, and most applications ask for any civil infractions in your past; that means you would need to list it and explain what happened. Now the person who sees that might say - "isn't an MIP a crime?" Or, it says civil infraction, but do I really want to hire or admit someone who "breaks the law?" - even one incident of underage drinking could send the wrong perception to the person reviewing the record.
They can easy then FOIA the police report connected to the MIP case, and there could be some embarrassing facts in there as a college kid charged with underage drinking. There could even be some facts about other crimes that are under first offender programs, or crimes not charged, but the facts could support them. Common other crimes that go with an MIP might be possessing a fake ID, urinating in public, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, public intoxication, open container etc.
As a former prosecutor, I understand the typical prosecutor mindset of "well he/she already caught a break" or "it's not even a crime". This can be frustrating to hear, and it's so shortsighted.
Most prosecutors DO NOT think outside the box and they don't understand or consider collateral consequences. That's like me saying well there's a gas leak at my house, and they say, well the house isn't on fire, what's the big deal? Sure, in the moment it's a civil infraction, but once that record becomes public it sets off fireworks in all directions for the client., and you can run from it, because it's not eligible for expungement This is why I have not allowed any of my clients charged with an MIP to walk into the courthouse and plead responsible.
I approach these cases as if the offense is still a serious criminal offense, and value the fact that my client should not be underage drinking, and we can learn from this. We over prepare and outwork the others charged with the same offense.
To simply ignore what happened will only lead to the client piling up MIP's and getting into more trouble with alcohol in the immediate future, and down the road as they get older. It's my goal to workout an alternative outcome with the prosecutor that is NOT an MIP.
This could be accomplished in many ways; we can turn the MIP into a different civil infraction, which won't pop up as an alcohol offense; this would be the optimal result, but not always offered by a prosecutor. That is why my client's go above and beyond with a proactive approach to push the limits on negotiations, and give me the currency I need to make things happen.