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County closes underaged drinking loophole

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer
11/17/2010

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new ordinance targeting underaged drinking at a Tuesday, Nov. 9, meeting.

District Attorney-elect David Hollister told the board the ordinance would close a loophole that many counties have encountered in state laws.

He explained that it’s currently illegal for a minor to possess alcohol, but for a citation to hold up to a challenge in court the DA’s office had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the minor drank the alcohol in this county.

Hollister said five to 15 cases were dismissed in the last few years because of that technicality and this created a feeling among some kids that they could get away from the charge.

He added that the language in this new ordinance made it illegal for minors to have alcohol in their systems, not just to posses it.

The DA-elect said this language had been used in other counties and withstood attempted appeals.

Sheriff Greg Hagwood reported the ordinance was created through the work of the DA’s office, Portola City Manager Jim Murphy and the county Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Coalition (ATOD).

A group of citizens independently formed the ATOD coalition to address substance abuse problems in Plumas shortly after the county closed its alcohol and drug department.

Indian Valley Supervisor Robert Meacher asked if police could measure blood alcohol levels down to .01, the minimum required in the ordinance for a citation to be given.

Hollister said local officers carried equipment that could make that distinction.

Hagwood indicated that officers would still make judgments on when to use those tests based on circumstances, not just testing every minor walking down the street.

“So if a teenager’s at a party, not drinking, but took Nyquil for a cold, what’s the story there?” Quincy Supervisor Lori Simpson asked.

“That’s certainly something that can be vetted in the appropriate forum, as in court,” the sheriff responded.

Hollister told the board these cases would be handled in traffic court and treated as infractions so they wouldn’t clutter up the criminal court calendar.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire pointed out that county ordinances could technically lead to misdemeanors.

Hollister said that was true but the policy would be to give out fines, not to incarcerate anyone.

When asked if this ability to get more convictions would lead to a change in priorities for the SO, with more officers responding to parties, Hagwood said that wouldn’t be the case.

“It’s always maintained a very high level of priority at the sheriff’s department and we’ll continue to respond as we always have to reports of juvenile drinking.”

“It’s not going to change the manner in which the sheriff’s department addresses these situations.”

Supervisor Terry Swofford reflected on his time as a high school teacher, “Every few years we would lose students due to alcohol and accidents and stuff and so if this will help prevent that then I think it’s something we really need to move forward.”

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