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UNDERAGE DRINKING: Not Just a College-Town Problem in Arizona

No parent is ever fully prepared for a call from their son or daughter from jail following an arrest. The question all parents ask is “What now?”  This is where you start.

Resource Article: 1 of 2 Parts: Arizona’s Trends, Arrests, Laws; Consequences; and criminal defense

On March 30, 2013, an 18-year-old Tempe ASU student fell to her death from a ten-story apartment building. She had just returned from an “all you can drink” party at an off-campus, now-banned fraternity house. Security video footage showed Naomi walking the halls of the apartment stumbling and unable to steady balance after she left the party, where friends say she was drinking heavily. Security cameras from outside the building revealed Naomi straddling the 10th story balcony railing before falling to her death. It is not known whether she fell accidentally or intended to take her life. All we know is that she died that day.

This particular student was the last person that one would expect to abuse alcohol.  Both of her parents were school teachers. She was the Student Body President of the former high school she attended. According to those who knew her, she was positive and optimistic. Her college major was in non-profit leadership and Management, a field with so desperate a need for people like the special person to make a difference in their lives, communities, and all those who she would have served rewardingly. But Naomi’s life ended abruptly along with her aspirations, hopes, and dreams, at the hand of alcohol abuse. Her family, her friends, the school, the city, the state polarized by her death.

Her story is not the first of alcohol related tragedies in Tempe, AZ. Similar alcohol related deaths occurred within months prior to hers. The alcohol related violence, and fatalities devastated Tempe, and the State.  As a result the police significantly increased their alcoholism crimes enforcement efforts. They hit the streets, bars, parties, sporting events, and any place they thought they may find minors consuming alcohol.  Hundreds of arrests were made within just a few weeks prior to the spring 2014 graduation.  Though many students have returned home following the spring 2014 semester, police remain vigilant. This is because alcohol abuse by minors is not “just a college town problem”; its’ impacts are wide spread on youths, drivers, passengers, families; and victims of its wrath.

This bright young woman’s death presents haunting questions: “Could her death have been prevented? Was Naomi Troubled? Did warning signs go unnoticed? Why did no one recognize that she had too much to drink? Why did no one help her?”

Youth Drinking Crisis: – Overview

This in-depth article is intended to raise awareness to the crisis of drinking by minors. We will reveal statistics in Arizona, and compare them to the National statistics; provide information on laws, penalties, other consequences, trends of violations, prevention, causes of high risk behaviors; their impacts on the teen, and society; resources to help raise awareness; the response by schools, local and government agencies; and the role of influencers in a teens life with regard to their decisions to drink or engage in high risk behaviors. This series has two parts:

1)Underage Drinking: Arizona’s Crisis; Minor Consumption Arrests reach record high; Laws; Trends; Consequences” –  In this segment we will discuss Arizona’s 7 year trends that have continued to increase; laws; consequences; and how Arizona compares to the rest of the nation; and State and National Medical Amnesty Initiatives.

2) “Subduing the Enemy: Underage Drinking War”: Causes, Prevention; Social and Influencer Responses” – In part two we will discuss consequences, causes, prevention, and treatment. We will also take a closer look at the critical role parents play as influencers in their teens decision making processes; provide tips and strategies for parents to recognize warning signs, raising awareness and helping to prevent the problem; and calls to action by local and national authorities to combat the problem.

Arizona’s Youth Drinking Reaches all Time High

As the national average declines each year, Arizona’s teen and below legal drinking age arrests have reached historically high numbers that continues to climb. Recent reports released from the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (AGOHS) 2012 and 2013 DUI enforcement statistics. Arizona has experienced a dramatic upward trend during the last 7 years, in citations involving drinking violations, under the legal age of 21.

In 2013, there were 85,247 violations cited over 7,988 in 2012. This increase despite the fact that there was a 5.57 % drop, 48,894 fewer police contacts in 2013 than 2012. These figures do not include DUI arrest statistics for drivers below 21 years of age.

In 2013, Arizona experienced a 6.3 percent increase in drinking arrests over 2012 according to the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (AGOHS) DUI Enforcement Statistics. Even more compelling is the fact that drinking alcohol under the age of 21 violations has progressively increased nearly six times higher within the last 7 years. AGOHS reported the following citations for violations in this category:

  • 2007 – 1,502
  • 2008 – 1,571
  • 2009 – 2,019
  • 2010 – 3,169
  • 2011 – 7,708
  • 2012 – 7,988
  • 2013 – 8,527

DUI violations of those drivers under the legal drinking age limit increased over the most recent 6 year period, rising to nearly 3 times higher in number from 2008 to 2014.

  • 2007 – 655
  • 2008 – 590
  • 2009 – 783
  • 2010 – 910
  • 2011 – 910
  • 2012 – 1,337
  • 2013 – 1,532
  • 2014 – 1,450

In June of 2012 the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released their 2011 “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Summaries” for 2011.  At that time, Arizona took the number 1 spot in the country, with 27 percent of those surveyed admitting to engaging in “Binge Drinking”, a dangerous drinking practice that can result in alcohol poisoning or death.

Arizona also ranked second for having 44 percent of high school students admitting to using alcohol within the last 30 days prior to the survey.

Arizona Compared to the National Averages – AZ Higher in all alcohol use categories

According to the most recent statistics from the National Centers of Disease Control (CDC) 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report, Arizona teens scored higher in all 4 categories, over the national level related to youth alcohol consumption.

  • Drank alcohol before the age of 13 – Arizona 21. percent v. USA 21 percent
  • Drank alcohol during the last 30 days – Arizona 44 percent v. USA 39 percent
  • Engaged in Binge Drinking during last 30 days – Arizona 27 percent v. USA 22 percent
  • Drank alcohol on school property within last 30 days – AZ 6 percent v. USA 5 percent

It is unclear why Arizona is higher than the National Averages. However, this was the case in the substance abuse categories as a whole, and not only use of spirituous liquor.

National Medical Amnesty Initiative – Good Samaritan, #911-Life Line Calls Save Lives

Medical Amnesty Laws related to drugs and alcohol, are laws that provide immunity in some form to victims or witnesses who call or seek emergency medical treatment for someone who has suffered from a fatal overdose. Currently, there are only eighteen states in the USA with such laws in place. Arizona does not have drug or alcohol immunity laws in place at this time.

National Medical Amnesty Initiative was recently proposed, and is also known as “911 Life Line” or “Good Samaritan” laws. Advocates of the initiative report an alarming study from Cornell University revealed that nearly 70 percent of teenagers reported they feared being cited or arrested by police because their alcohol consumption was a violation of the law. As a result 19 percent of college students admitted that medical attention should have been sought for person who suffered from alcohol poisoning or high levels of intoxication; but that only 4 percent actually called 911 or went to seek emergency medical treatment.

In states where alcohol or substance abuse amnesty laws existed, it was discovered, that more calls were made and more lives were saved as a result of the immunity laws.  Interestingly, this same study revealed that while the #911 calls increased, the fatalities decreased. But the drinking behaviors and the number of teens drinking stayed relatively the same or constant.  This can safely lead us to the conclusions that adopting “Medical Amnesty” laws neither compel teens to drink alcohol at all; or compel them to drink more in volume.

7 of the Most Common Youth Drinking Crimes

  • Minor in Consumption (MIC);
  • DUI;
  • Purchase of liquor;
  • Possession of Spirituous Liquor;
  • Using or possessing false identification (ID);
  • Employee under the legal drinking age, selling or distribution of alcohol
  • Using or possessing ID to buy liquor or get into an establishment where it is sold

Arizona Minor Consumption Laws (Excluding DUI)

In Arizona the legal age for buying or drinking spirituous liquor is age 21 under A.R.S. 4 – 244. Arizona is a “Zero Tolerance” state. This means it is unlawful for a person under age 21 to purchase, or have amount of spirituous liquor in their blood stream, in a pubic or in any establishment.  Consumption violations involving those below 21 years of age, excluding drinking and driving are brought as a Class 2 Misdemeanor. However, if a person uses a false ID to gain entry into an establishment or to obtain alcohol the offense is elevated to a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

There are few exceptions for which defenses may apply under the law. Exceptions to prosecution include alcohol consumption for faith based ceremonies, medicinal purposes; and where there is no danger to public safety as a result of the minor consumption.

Criminal liability will also be imposed for violations by persons, business owners, retailers, and other businesses that knowingly sell alcohol to persons under the legal drinking age of 21 are in violation of A.R.S. 4 – 244. In this article, however, we focus on laws and penalties related to consumption, and DUI for those under age 21.

Penalties for Possession or Consumption of Alcohol for Person Under 21

Non-dangerous, first time Class 1 Misdemeanors generally call for 6 month jail sentences and a period of 4 months incarceration for Class 2 Misdemeanors. The court judges may use their discretion to order sentences for alcohol related convictions of minors in possession, consumption, or false identification.

However, those charged will be exposed to harsh penalties. These include: 2 years driver’s license suspension or refusal; alcohol abuse screening, counseling, or treatment; fines up to $750.00 for Class 2 Misdemeanors and fines up to $2,500 before surcharges for Class 1 Misdemeanors.

Under Age 21 DUI Laws: (Excluding minor consumption without driving) 

Arizona is a “Zero Tolerance” state with regard to under age 21 drinking in Arizona. A person found to have any spirituous liquor in their blood stream is in violation of DUI minor consumption laws applying to roadway motor vehicles A.R.S 4-244. (34), and for watercrafts (35).

This law differs from that which applies to adults in that it is lawful for an adult over age 21 motorist to drive as long as they are not “impaired to the slightest degree,” and the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in their bodily system is below .08 percent.

Underage 21 drinkers do not have to be driving impaired, in order to be prosecuted for DUI. This means “Zero Tolerance” for alcohol use for those not of legal age in the State of Arizona.

These charges are brought as Class 1 Misdemeanors, the most serious of Misdemeanor crimes. Convictions will expose a driver to a minimum 10 day jail sentence.

Penalties for Underage Drinking and Driving

A person convicted of a Class 1 Misdemeanor, who is below 21, will face the same Criminal Penalties as adults plus additional civil driver’s license penalties. Under A.R.S. 28 –3320 & 3322, related to loss of driving privileges, drivers below the age of twenty-one, will lose their driving privileges for two years; as opposed to adults who face a 90-day suspension.

Suspension period is increased to 3 years for an Aggravated (Felony) DUI.  Restricted driver’s licenses may be issued in some situation for driving to work and school, but subject to installation of special Ignition Interlock Devices (IID).

Criminal penalties for driving under the influence of any alcohol, even in absence of driving impairment, for a motorist below the age of twenty one, calls for a 10-day jail term. This time may be reduced to a maximum of 1 day upon successful completion of an alcohol abuse treatment program; fines, fees and assessments of at least $1,200.00; participation in an alcohol or substance abuse counseling or treatment program; and use of IID for one year following the reinstatement of driving privileges.

Criminal Defense for Alcohol-Related Crimes

No parent is ever fully prepared for a call from their son or daughter from jail following an arrest. The question all parents ask is “What now?” This is where you start.

If you or a family member has been charged with a DUI or other alcohol related crime, you should consult a private practice criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible, to discuss your son or daughter’s matter and their options for defense.

It is important that both the parents and youths charged fully understand the consequences of a conviction. Without a qualified and experienced defense attorney, alcohol related charges will result in swift and harsh conviction that exposes a person to jail terms, and loss of driving privileges. A conviction can interrupt and have severe impacts on a person’s life. In Arizona, most sentencing will include orders by the judge to participate in substance abuse programs. Successful completion may result in reduce jail terms.

But a person should never plead guilty without being properly represented by a criminal defense attorney. There may be defenses that can be used that will lead to dismissal or reduction of charges and sentencing. James Novak, DUI & Criminal Defense Attorney of the Law Office of James Novak, is a former prosecutor, and experienced trial attorney. He provides exclusive defense and offers a free initial consultation for those who face active alcohol related charges in Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert, or Scottsdale Arizona.


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