The Michigan Court of Appeals, in a decision published on February 15, 2002 in People of the State of Michigan v. Rutledge decided that a minor who consumes alcohol in Canada legally (the drinking age in Canada is lower than Michigan) cannot be charged with a violation of MCL 436.1703(1).

However, you need to dig a little further into the case to find a possible defense to current Minor in Possession – MIP charges in Michigan. The district court and the Circuit Court on appeal ruled that the defendant possessed alcohol by having in his body in Michigan.  The Michigan statute provides that “a minor shall not purchase or attempt to purchase alcoholic liquor, consume or attempt to consume alcoholic liquor, or possess or attempt to possess alcoholic liquor…”

The prosecutor in the above case made the argument that the minor did not break the law by consuming the alcohol in Canada, but by possessing and consuming the alcohol within his body after returning to Michigan. The Defendant urged the court to construe the terms “consume” and “possess” as used in MCL 436.1703(1) to mean actual ingestion and possession of undigested alcoholic liquor.

Think this is one of those crazy mental exercises only seen in a law school classroom? Think again. This argument and how the Court of Appeals defined possession could possibly have an effect on your Minor in Possession – MIP case, especially in light of the rulings regarding PBT testing.

First, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the terms in the MIP statute are ambiguous because they can be interpreted in more than one manner. This is never good for a legislative statute! Second, the Court of Appeals tried to define possession and had to look to another state for help. They sided with the Defendant and stated: “Defendant argues, and we agree, that once a person has ingested liquor, it is no longer fit for use for beverage purposes…Therefore as defendant sat as a passenger in the vehicle in Michigan, he did not consume or possess “alcoholic liquor”.

This is rather huge considering they went on to say that the Michigan legislature criminalized the mere presence of alcohol in the Zero Tolerance driving law and could have done so in the MIP statute. Especially in light of the new rules on PBT testing and forcing kids to take the test, there is some wiggle room to make an argument concerning proof of actually ingesting the alcohol.

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