General Question

ntron933's avatar

20 years old, $267 underage drinking ticket for .008BAC. Contest?

Asked by ntron933 (46 points ) May 31st, 2010

So a couple weeks ago I was at a party and decided to drink a can of beer. Unfortunately for me the party got busted (on grounds that will be contested by the residences of the house), and I came out of it with a $267 fine for having a BAC of .008 (possibly even .005, as that was the last number i saw on the breathalyzer, but some friends said it was .008. it wasn’t written on the ticket).
The cop asked me if I had been drinking AFTER he gave me the breathalyzer, and I admitted to having 1 can of beer. It is my first UA, and as far as I can recall my first ticket for anything.

So, now my court date is tomorrow, and I’m wondering if anyone can give some quick advice—does anyone think it is likely that I could get the ticket dropped? (this is in Wisconsin, where in some cities there is no fine if it is under .01. It is also a college town.)
The officer gave me a pamphlet about a class I can take, and get the ticket reduced to about $140, but it says in order to do that I must plead “guilty” or “no contest” and request the class option.
I’ve never been to court before, so I really don’t know how I should approach this, just looking for some last-minute advice I guess.

And please, don’t bother with “you should just man up and accept the consequences for your crime, etc., etc.”. I’m 20 years old, had one beer at a party, and a BAC that (had i known at the time) I could have attributed to mouthwash. I also don’t have a driver’s license, regardless.

Thanks in advance!

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40 Answers

Trillian's avatar

You ask for advice then say in advance what advice you don’t want. The mouthwash idea is untrue, and you’d have looked stupid trying to make that claim so it’s a good thing that you didn’t.
Facts:“I’m 20 years old, had one beer at a party, and a BAC…” Throw yourself on the mercy of the court. The “facts” are against you.

lilikoi's avatar

You had a drink. You’re underage. You broke the law. You admitted to breaking the law. Man up.

YARNLADY's avatar

Look in the mirror and ask yourself this question. What did you say? You want my opinion – pay up and accept responsibility for your mistake.

lillycoyote's avatar

I don’t know. You’re underage, you were drinking. You got cited for underage drinking. I’m not sure there’s much you can do about it.

rangerr's avatar

this part removed by me.
You drank while underage. and were dumb enough to get caught.
You were stupid enough to not ask to see the result of the test.

Honestly, I would go with no contest and take the class.
Get the ticket reduced, at least.

ntron933's avatar

“You drove after drinking.”

I never said anything of the sort. I was just clarifying that I don’t have a license, in hopes that this would deter any accusations of the potential risk of driving >_>

UA = underage drinking ticket. It has nothing to do with driving.

rangerr's avatar

Oh shit. You’re right.
I have no idea what I was even reading. my bad. Don’t do drugs, kids.

You were still pretty dumb not to ask to see the results of the test.
and even dumber not to disappear when the cops got there.

I’m not sure how your judges are, but if you play it calm in court and admit to having one beer, they’ll most likely just lecture you and let you go.
But if you are worried about it, then go with no contest and ask for the class.

jerv's avatar

IF Age < 21 AND BAC >0.00000 THEN Verdict = Guilty

It’s that simple.
Don’t bother fighting it.
It’ll waste your time and taxpayer money.

lillycoyote's avatar

Anyway, you might as well contest it. I don’t think you’ll be any worse off if you contest it than you would be if you don’t unless you decide to hire a lawyer and then you will be out a significant amount of money. And don’t worry about wasting taxpayers’ money, and I can say that because I am one, because everyone has a right to have his case heard in court, even if he is guilty.

ntron933's avatar

I understand that I should have asked to see the result, but in the general situation I was nervous and had never had this sort of thing happen before. Also I had assumed that the cop would write it on the ticket (and so did everyone else. I keep getting asked “it’s written on the ticket, right?”. I’ve looked a million times and there is nothing about the test written there, and the only thing written in the description is “1st UA”)—he also didn’t make any mention of the breathalyzer test when he radioed in to tell HQ, so I don’t know if it is on record.

What I’m hoping right now is that after the judge reads off the information about my offense, if the breathalyzer result is not among the info presented, I will politely ask if it is on record. If not, then I’ll tell them it was a .008, and hopefully the officer will be present (to my understanding they’re supposed to be), and hopefully he will confirm it.
Then I’ll just ask if the judge sees the fine, being my first, as one suitable for such a minor offense, especially by someone who was not at risk of driving. If the judge wont agree to drop the charge, then I will accept the class and reduction option. ....but this is just a hypothetical situation here, I haven’t been to court before so I don’t know how it works with the hearing…..would that count as “contesting” the charge?

FishGutsDale's avatar

Argue it. If you lose then you pay the ticket AND you don’t have to do some stupid class. I feel sorry for you with the answers you got, 1 beer at a private party at 20 years of age does not make you stupid. It makes you normal and unlucky. All you parental figures on your podiums need to remember back to when you were young.

P.S move to Australia, it’s 18 here for drinking.

rangerr's avatar

I think your plan sounds fine. though, if it’s not on record, you could just say that you were never told what the reading said.

Especially if you are in a college town and haven’t been to court before, the judge should be somewhat easy on you.

Or just hope that your officer just doesn’t show.
Good luck with this.

Response moderated
Trillian's avatar

Parental figure here, checking in. I don’t remember standing at a podium at any point. I can remember very well being underage, and the maxim at the time stands today; “ya wanna play, ya gotta pay.” That’s the risk you take when you choose to drink. Sorry if the legal drinking age is higher here than other countries. If anyone feels that this somehow makes them morally superior or something, welcome to the feeling. Enjoy. Ya makes your choices and ya takes your chances. Go ahead and feel sorry for the dose of realism rather than a soporific line like “It’ll be ok.” Maybe it will, I think we all managed to express that.
If you want a bunch of pats on the back and people telling you how bad those authority figures are, you came to the wrong place.

ntron933's avatar

@rangerr: well, I never WAS told what the reading said. I just know that the only digit that moved on the breathalyzer was the very last one, and the last number I saw on it as it was leveling out was a .005, then the officer turned it away to look at it where i couldn’t see (friends later told me it was a .008).

The conversation between the officers was something to the effect of “well there’s underage kids here but they’re all blowing zeros…...oooh looks like we’ve got SOMETHING here…..uhh it’s basically nothing”, and then the officer writing the ticket sternly asked “ok, what did you drink? was it a bottle?” and I nervously said “no, it was just a can”. Then he radioed in and read off my name and birth date, and that it was my first UA. but made no mention of the breathalyzer.

rangerr's avatar

@ntron933 How did you even get caught? Were you hanging out by the front door when the cops showed up?

I’d definitely tell the judge that they didn’t let you see the test at all, then.
For one can of beer even in the US, that’s a bit over the top to charge you so heavily for underage drinking, imo.
inb4parentalfigures.

lilikoi's avatar

@ntron933

I agree with @FishGutsDale. It sucks. It could pay you to know the law in detail. Check out this link. There appears to be an exception if your are consuming alcohol in the presence of parent / guardian / spouse of legal age. Was any such person there that would vouch for you? There is also contact information where you might be able to find out more info or perhaps you could look up the specific statutes.

Can’t you invoke a right to remain silent and say you’re calling your lawyer instead of responding to their questions? Cops, attorneys, public officials, judges will all put on a stern front to try to intimidate you into incriminating yourself. Don’t be intimidated. Stand your ground.

Can you call the police department and get a copy of the test? What is the margin of error on the equipment they used I wonder? Can you get someone credible to vouch that mouthwash could trigger an equivalent reading? When you go to court, I think whoever has the most information has a distinct advantage.

ntron933's avatar

What’s even more rediculous than the $267 charge that I recieved is that, the only other person who got a UA at the party got less of a fine.

She was also arrested and taken to the police station, because she was lying, and it was not her first UA. Her fine was closer to $200 (a second offense is supposed to be double the cost of the first).

Apparently she made buddies with the arresting officers, and this along with the fact that she is an attractive female seem to be the only reasons her fine was reduced.

I’d bring THIS up in court as well, but I don’t want to make this all messier than it is already, and she is a friend of mine, so I’m not in a position where I’d want to make things worse for her to save my own hide.

ntron933's avatar

@lilikoi: no, no one of those statuses was present, and I believe that exception is only true if you’re under 18, because they’re your legal gaurdian (but really, you can’t drink with your parents in when you’re 19 or 20, but you can before you’re 18? Something seems off there).

Also, my intent is to get through with this by the cheapest means I possibly can (being a poor college student), so getting an attorney involved is not an option I’m looking for.

It’s possible that i could request a copy of the test from the police department, but i doubt it on such short notice. And while it might be useful to find out the information regarding mouthwash or margin of error, I admitted to having drank some beer, so trying to use those excuses at this point would just put me in deeper water.

I think bringing up what @rangerr is saying about not being able to see the test result at all is probably the best option there, especially if it is not on record.

FishGutsDale's avatar

@ntron933 You’ll be right mate, even if that is a soporific sentiment. Then again i’m feeling morally superior being able to drink from 18 and all. tongue in cheek

Let us know how you get on though?

trumi's avatar

Just real quick, @rangerr it’s going to be his word against the cop’s, so points like “I didn’t see the number on the breathalyzer” are useless.

Whether or not the punishment is just, the crime was committed. You drank underage, you got caught, you are guilty – pleading not guilty is just going to exacerbate things.

Where a suit, be polite, plead no contest, and when the judge asks if you have anything to say tell him that you had one beer and you’re very sorry.

I just got a 170 ticket a month ago for going 16 over in a school zone. It was on my city’s main road, which has a speed limit of 35, and I was going 36. School had started at 9 and it was 910, meaning there were no kids or busses in sight, and I honestly didn’t see the sign because that’s my normal route to school every day but I was running late. It was a motorcycle cop, parked, who had been called out by “parents complaining of people speeding”. He was there all week handing out tickets. Sucked, but I was guilty of the crime I was charged with. Paid it.

ntron933's avatar

@FishGutsDale: will do! Thanks for the support, from you and the others as well.

SmashTheState's avatar

It’s probably a little late for this, but my advice would be to challenge it on constitutional grounds. I’m a professional organizer, activist, anarchist, and shit-disturber. As part of my duties with the organization for whom I am spokesperson, I sometimes have occasion to commit direct action, at which the police often frown. Once, they frowned so hard that I found myself facing up to 12 years in prison. Rather that claim I hadn’t done that of which they were accusing me—I had, and proudly so—I decided to fight the charges on constitutional grounds. The first reaction of the Crown was to reduce the charges, hoping I’d plead guilty. When that failed, they told me if I wrote a letter of apology they’d drop the charges. I laughed at them and told them that not only wouldn’t I apologize, I was proud of what I had done and would do it again in a hot second. Eventually, the Crown simply dropped the charges and walked away.

In the 20+ years I’ve been an activist, I’ve seen it many, many times. Even if the grounds of your constitutional challenge are a bit shaky or specious, the prosecution is extremely hesitant about pushing forward. They know that a constitutional argument is a long and costly process for them, and if it’s a minor charge (or they know their evidence is lacking) they risk creating a troublesome precedent with long-term repercussions with absolutely nothing to gain on their side except a small fine or a slap on the wrist.

If you want to have the best odds, you’ll have to do some research on previous precedent for your case and figure out an angle no one else has used before. “Novel” legal strategies (as they’re called) cause particular consternation for the Crown because it’s a crap shoot going in for both sides. No one knows which way a judge (or jury) is going to jump. And for the Crown, even the tinest possibility that you may set a precedent is a scary prospect for them, one they are not at all anxious to see happen.

ntron933's avatar

@SmashTheState: While i’m certainly not in total agreement with the US drinking laws, I think a strategy like that would be a little overkill for this offense. I’d just like to get it over with as quickly and cheaply as possible. As you keep referring to the Crown I’m assuming you are referring to the UK, and unless I’m mistaken the UK does not have a written constitution, so challenging it is much easier. Most judges in the US know that stuff pretty well, and if it were to be challenged on constitutional grounds (which, yes, to my knowledge of the constitution, it potentially could, but not without nation-wide outrage from the populace, who really aught to be focusing more on how much of a disaster the BP oil spill is at this point), it would go to the Supreme Court, and that would cost me a lot of time and money.

However, the hosts of the party, (who were tagged with a noise violation and ticket for soliciting underage drinking), may have more to go off of on that angle. The noise violation was not a response to a complaint from a neighbor but filed by the officers themselves, who admitted that they “heard the party while they were busting a different party a couple houses away”. They also may have entered illegally because they came to the door and said “you need to send someone out to talk to us or we’re coming in”...and then just came in. No one stopped them because they didn’t know what to do. They had been hanging around outside the party since around 10pm (unfortunately i drank the one beer I had before I saw a cop car cruising by outside).

These parties were a regular thing at that house (house shows for local indie rock and electronic bands), and had never had anyone call in for a noise violation, or any harassment from the police in general. However, an article was published about these parties in a local magazine a week before the show, and it is likely that that was the incentive for the police showing up. They probably assumed that since it was a bunch of artsy-fartsy kids there’d be a ton of illegal drugs and underage drinking going on, so they were just looking for any excuse to get inside. Sorry we disappointed them….

SmashTheState's avatar

@ntron933 Just a note, I live in Kanada, and we do have a constitution, with a charter of rights and freedoms. Also, the idea is not that you are launching a holy crusade to the Supreme Court, but rather challenging the prosecution to a game of chicken where they have everything to lose and you have everything to win. Nine times out of ten, if you have even the slightest sliver of a chance of winning, the Crown will drop the charges rather than risk a precedent.

Jeruba's avatar

@ntron933, you wrote: The noise violation was not a response to a complaint from a neighbor but filed by the officers themselves, who admitted that they “heard the party while they were busting a different party a couple houses away.”

I’d like to hear @john65pennington’s take on this, and maybe it varies from state to state, but my understanding is that this couldn’t happen legally in California (or at least not in my city). We used to have a next-door neighbor who played brutally loud music night and day. A policeman came by to ask us about an incident in the neighborhood, and while he was here I asked him how come they didn’t do something when they cruised by and heard what a huge racket this neighbor was making. He said, “We can’t be the victim.” I said, “I’m sorry—what??” He said, “We can’t be the person who makes the complaint. We can’t be the victim. Someone has to complain, and then we respond to it.”

If something like this is the case in your state, the whole thing might have been illegal.

SmashTheState's avatar

@Jeruba He said, “We can’t be the person who makes the complaint. We can’t be the victim. Someone has to complain, and then we respond to it.”

I was hitching my way across the county, and had pitched my tent in a vacant, weedy lot in Milton, Ontario. The Ontario Provincial Police showed up to ruin my day. What they said was, “You’re on private property. Now, we can’t do anything because we haven’t received a complaint, but if you’re not gone by tonight, we’ll be back. And there will be more of us.”

ntron933's avatar

@Jeruba: “If something like this is the case in your state, the whole thing might have been illegal.”

Exactly what they intend to contest at their hearing. They’re pretty confident that they can get the noise violation ticket revoked, but not so much the one for soliciting underage drinking. There were only two underage caught (me being one), so there’s a chance they can at least get that one reduced….. but probably less chance than I have of getting my ticket dropped, which seems wholly dependent on the attitude/beliefs of the judge and whether I play my cards right >_>

perspicacious's avatar

Pay the ticket or take the class. It’s only about money. You are guilty of violating the drinking statue. You said nothing in your narrative that might get you off. The police asked you if you had been drinking and you said yes.

whyigottajoin's avatar

Hahaha, this is so funny to read.. I was allowed to drink beer with 16 and stong liquirs with 18. =) I’ve never encountered this problem.. I just wanted to say 21 is way too high of an age for beer anyway. Move to Holland, kiddo =D

Tobotron's avatar

@whyigottajoin too right if these are the consequences of having a single can of beer aged 20 are you sure your not living in an Islamic state? Come top college in Europe and enjoy some real beer without the ticket ;)

but in answer to your question just pay the stupidly expensive fine otherwise these things always come back to bite you and alot harder second time round…

what is the basis for the 21 limit on drinking anyway considering the fathers of America came from Europe where drinking is a cultural norm from a young age, esp those Irish ;)

SmashTheState's avatar

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”—H.L. Mencken

morilee's avatar

Make sure you dress yourself in your best suit, look put together and conservative. Bring your parents. Judges need your respect if you are to get anywhere and they judge your entire character it seems. If you look like you are genuine, and going somewhere with your life they might be lenient. College town police make a ton of money off college students, but if they did not properly document your BAC, you should try to weasel your way out of having that on your record. A lot of colleges have deals with police and judges to keep the number of UD tickets and info low so parents won’t think their child is going away to school to drink. You will regret not trying, tell them you were nervous and just said you had one beer but really had less…only if they don’t have the BAC documented. Good luck.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Being in a college town might actually make it harder for you. The town my college is in has had bars and frat houses shut down because of underage drinking, they take it very seriously (and they use to be one of the top 10 party schools). Honestly, I know you don’t want to pay the ticket, but you already admitted to the cop that you did drink. If he does show up at court and you say you didn’t drink, it will be his word against yours (and 9 times out of 10, they take the cops word). I’d go in, admit to what I had done, and take the class for the reduction. The judge might even cut you some slack for being honest from the beginning. If you go it and try to lie, it will make you look bad, and the judge will not cut you a break.

rebbel's avatar

@ntron933
I am curious about something else: the fact that you can get fined for drinking while under a certain age, has also as a goal that you will not do that thing again, i guess.
So, will this fine, whether you have to pay it or you are found not guilty, make you stop drinking for the following year (until you have the legal age)?

njnyjobs's avatar

You already admitted to the crime by answering the cop that you had 1 can of beer. That’s all he needed to cite you for the offense. There’s no way you can wiggle your way out with a sorry excuse and blaming it on mouthwash.

Take the cops advice, plead no contest and take the class. . .

Nullo's avatar

You deliberately went and broke a law, knowing the risks. I’d say that you’ve earned your fine.

bolwerk's avatar

First of all, never incriminate yourself to the police. When a cop asks you questions, you should say, “I am going to remain silent. I would like to speak to a lawyer.” You can get away with a lot by following that simple advice because you’re pretty much saying, “Arrest me if you have something on me,” but in a nice way.* Once you’re arrested, a competent lawyer who knows the system can make sure you don’t say/do anything stupid – and any statement you make to the police before you’re arrested or after you’re mirandized is easily admissible. Frankly, you should even follow that advice when you’re innocent because there are enough corrupt cops in the world who will twist your words around to make you look guilty.

Sadly, I don’t think there’s a lot you can do much to escape this. Obviously you didn’t do anything wrong, but the law isn’t going to see it that way, and I doubt agents of the state are going to either. I think your best bet is probably playing the part of the remorseful clean cut white kid. Make sure you dress well, speak articulately, and be polite to the judge. If you feel you really are innocent (e.g., you had the beer hours before), you can play it up that way – and the burden is on the state to prove it, though your statement to the officer will weigh heavily against you. A BAC as low as the one you registered could come from downing some old juice in your fridge. If you’re unsure about your rights, ask the judge polite questions, and try cast doubt on the state’s case. No matter what, being combative is a terrible idea. People in positions of authority tend to be very vain, so if you give them an excuse not to be merciful, they’ll take it.

* Of course, your state may have specific rules about engaging police. You may have to identify yourself, perhaps through some combination of giving your name, address, and an id.

ntron933's avatar

@rebbel: frankly, no, i have already drank since I got the ticket. In fact, the residents of the house invited me back at 2am that night because they wanted to cheer me up, and there I ACTUALLY drank and got drunk (which is a rarity for me—i like to avoid hangovers).

The ticket will (and has), however, keep me from drinking anything in party scenarios or with large groups until next year. That was the advice the cop gave me anyway, but it didn’t stop him from writing a ticket (which i’m pretty certain he only did because they didn’t nab any other underage drinkers. They were hoping to catch quite a few, i imagine, and this is Wisconsin—cops know everyone drinks before they’re 21, and i’m certain 90% of them did too).

I whole-heatedly agree with the foreign posters that the drinking age is much too high in the US (you’re legally an adult and can make all your own decisions at 18…except when it comes to alcohol? and, well, renting cars, but i think that’s a policy of the businesses, not a law).

@whyigottajoin: the first place I drank was in Germany. It was there I learned that drinking could be fun, relaxed social activity, not the sh*tstorms for parties high school kid have in the US. I also noticed that it really helped breach social gaps among teens—if they could all drink together in public and have a good time, no one cares what clothes you’re wearing (unless they’re complimenting).

@FishGutsDale (and everyone else), so the trial was not with a judge, but the Commissioner. So, this meant that I could only plead guilty or not guilty, and if I wanted to contest the charge I’d have to set up a REAL court date, for which i’d have to pay court fees. Basically, even if the judge would have dropped the charge, there’s no way I could have gotten out of this without paying some sort of fine…. because such are the workings of the US court system. And people wonder why there are so many poor people in jail…

So, I just pleaded guilty and went with the class option and reduction. I now have 6 months to pay $140 and to take the class, which at the cheapest option is $45, and I’d need to find a way to get to Adams, WI… wherever that is.

lillycoyote's avatar

@ntron933 Well, it’s unfortunate but shit happens and you just kind of have to roll with it. There are rules and laws in the world and right or wrong, there are consequences when you break them. I got arrested, the only time I have ever been arrested, when I was 18, the spring semester of my senior year in high school, when I tried to get fake ID at the DMV with someone else’s birth certificate. It was unpleasant, and the consequences were unpleasant in so many ways. But those are the breaks and it eventually turned out not to be the end of the world.

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