It is a reality of the times that each weekend many teenagers are looking for a party. Despite being under the legal drinking age of 21, they are often looking for alcohol.
This past weekend was no exception.
About 40 area residents were cited by a special enforcement team of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department who went to an under-aged drinking party southeast of Goshen early Sunday.
It is a problem that local police agencies battle constantly.
“There’s always an issue related to under-aged drinking,” said Curtis T. Hill, Elkhart County prosecuting attorney. “... A fair number of parents find it acceptable to allow young people to drink alcohol, and of course, it is not.”
Enforcement of drinking laws in Elkhart County often involves either a special team with the sheriff’s department or a multi-agency team organized by the state Excise police.
For a number of years, the STAR program of the sheriff’s department has been funded by a grant from the Elkhart County Drug-Free Partnership to help combat underage drinking and keep young people safe.
The Goshen Police Department also keeps a close eye on underage drinking and encourage residents to let them know if they suspect an underage party is in progress.
“Absolutely, they should call us,” said Assistant Police Chief Mike McCloughen.
He said sometimes local police agencies are called upon to assist state Excise police when they plan a raid on bars to check on under-aged drinking.
Goshen police responded to a loud party call at about midnight Saturday and arrested three 18-year-old residents on charges accusing them of drinking alcohol at a home on the city’s west side.
It was the Sheriff’s department that made the big bust this weekend.
According to a news release, six people were arrested and as many as 34 others were cited and released after police went to a home at 61584 C.R. 33 about 6 a.m. Sunday.
The homeowner, Marion Mullett, 44, was arrested on a preliminary charge of contributing to the delinquency of minors, a Class A misdemeanor.
Others arrested were Glen Yoder, 19, Millersburg, for resisting arrest and illegal consumption of alcohol; Matthew Miller, 18, Topeka, for resisting arrest and illegal consumption of alcohol; Kristina Lehman, 18, Topeka, for illegal consumption of alcohol; Michelle Miller, 18, Goshen, for illegal consumption of alcohol; and a 17-year-old from Bremen charged with theft, escape, resisting law enforcement and illegal consumption.
The 17-year-old fled the scene and was later found at home, arrested and placed in juvenile detention.
According to sheriff’s officers, 14 adults were cited and released at the scene and 20 people under the age of 18 released to the custody of parents or guardians with the expectation they will appear in juvenile court.
Young people accused of the offenses are cited into the juvenile system, but those over the age of 18 are usually charged as adults with a misdemeanor offense.
There can be a number of steps for those under the age of 18, explained Phillip Miller, a Goshen attorney who also serves as a public defender in Elkhart Superior Court 4.
The first is a preliminary interview with the teen-ager and his or her parents with a probation officer who decides whether the case will proceed with an informal adjustment or to a delinquency petition.
If the case goes to a delinquency petition the offender will appear before the juvenile magistrate.
“I suspect most (of the alcohol-related cases) would get filed as delinquency petitions,” Miller said.
The proceedings are confidential and the case is a civil one, he said. The goal is to get the young person straightened out.
Young people are usually required to attend alcohol classes and serve on probation for six to 12 months. They may also face fines and be required to perform community service.
Young people may face a driver’s license suspension, even if the offense did not involved a motor vehicle.
The offense for people over the age of 18 is a Class C misdemeanor, Miller said, whether the charge is illegal consumption of alcoholic beverages or possession of them. Penalties for conviction of a Class C misdemeanor are up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Miller pointed out that recently drivers under the age of 21 who drive an adult to buy alcohol may be charged with possession of the alcohol, even if it is placed in the trunk of the car.
“Typically an adult might be sentenced up to a year on probation,” Miller said. “State law requires an alcohol evaluation and follow up, if recommended.” Any penalty involving the driver’s license is up to the judge, he said.