Juveniles convicted of alcohol or drug offenses will face stiffer penalties starting April 24. And in July, a conviction will mean loss of - or delay in getting - a driver's license.
"The thrust of the legislation, as it pertains to juveniles, is that the state is getting very serious about the use of alcohol and drugs," said Mark Jones, executive director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. "The thrust for the effort originated in the governor's office, reflecting the state's goal to have drug-free youth."HB152, effective this month, requires a $150 fine in addition to any other penalty for a substance abuse conviction. That fine, payable both by juvenile and adult offenders, will be split between the school and juvenile court systems to pay for drug-prevention activities. The court can order community service hours instead of a fine for those who are unable to pay.
In addition, a juvenile found guilty of any drug offense will have to perform between 20 and 100 hours of community service. The work hours will also be imposed on any juvenile convicted of a second alcohol offense.
The law "is comprehensive, from paraphernalia to dealing," said Wayne Holland, Division of Youth Corrections. "The penalties are significantly greater for possession, use and consumption of both alcohol and drugs, and kids ought to be aware of that."
The law is expected to have a substantial effect on the juvenile court system, according to John McNamara, administrator."It's going to be an interesting logistical problem, since we'll have to assess that fine and probably go into the collection business."
He said the law may reduce the availability of alcohol and drugs on school campuses. "It will probably reduce visibility and set a tone. We'll just have to watch and see what the impact is both ways."
HB152 and April should be good practice for HB7 and July, which will bring even harsher penalties.
HB7, which had more than 40 co-sponsors, is based on the premise that a driver's license is highly prized by juveniles, so suspension or revocation should be a strong deterrent to alcohol or drug abuse.
All adolescent drug convictions will lead to a six-month suspension of the license. If an offender is too young to drive, eligibility will be postponed by six months, up to his 18th birthday. Because revocations and suspensions can be stacked up, "with a couple of foul-ups, even at 14, a kid might not be able to drive until he's 18," Holland said.
Suspension or delay is an option on a first-time alcohol offense. It's mandatory with a second offense. The court has no discretion in imposing the penalty for second alcohol offenses or for any drug-related convictions.
"We may see some unintended consequences," said McNamara. "I hope we won't see young people who feel they can't wait to drive and do it on a revoked license and get further into the system."
Because penalties are so stiff, McNamara said that more young people may elect to plead not guilty and "back the system up" even more. "We'll just have to watch and see what the impact is both ways. I'd love to see our referrals drop to nothing, if the deterrent effect holds."