MIP & Alcohol Abuse Screening
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Any time you represent clients who are charged with alcohol offenses, whether it is for Minor in Possession or drinking and driving, you will encounter students with substance abuse diagnoses. I am not licensed or qualified to diagnose whether or not a client has an alcohol problem. However, the patterns are clear when the student has multiple MIP charges and has now picked up their first or second drinking and driving offense. The key is to diagnose these problems early through the use of substance abuse screening.
While I strongly believe that it is important to protect the student’s rights at all costs, including fighting for dismissals whenever possible, I also strongly believe that an attorney has an obligation to help the student with their alcohol problem if one exists. That is the reason why I have almost every student who retains my office complete a substance abuse screening with a qualified therapist.
These therapists have the ability to provide testing and probing questions that sometimes break through dishonest or misleading answers. They have diagnostic tools that provide an objective determination of alcohol dependency and the likelihood of relapse and future alcohol offenses.
I have found that college kids naturally experiment with alcohol in college and most do not have any real alcohol problem. This means that a screening for alcohol will almost always work out in my client’s favor. In addition, the report is private and it is not mandatory to disclose to the prosecutor unless it is in the student’s favor.
Many courts mandate that the student undergo alcohol screening as a condition of their probation or diversion program. This may include a full-blown assessment with a therapist, or a group class intended to educate the student on alcohol abuse. The courts have a vested interest in protecting the public from re-offense and therefore like to make an impact on the alcohol offenders.
There are many different treatment options and the countless variety of programs offered across the country is beyond the scope of this page. However, I will try to summarize the basic options available to the college student and their parents. After my clients undergo an alcohol assessment I will receive a written report from the therapist outlining the results of any testing that was done, the history of alcohol use, family history of alcohol use, the incident that brings them in for the assessment, and recommendations for further treatment.
The most common diagnosis I receive is that the student does not have an alcohol problem and is not in need of further treatment. However, it is usually recommended that they attend alcohol education classes. Occasionally, there will be a history of alcohol abuse and the therapist may recommend individual or group counseling.
Alcoholics Anonymous (“A.A.”) may be encouraged to maintain abstinence from alcohol. If there is a serious alcohol problem, the therapist may encourage intensive outpatient treatment with a combination of AA and random testing. I have seen courts do random alcohol testing on students while on probation where they have to call in daily to see if their test group has been called. I have also seen daily PBT (Preliminary Breath Test) testing from some courts, but that is not the norm.
Every student should be encouraged to take advantage of the health care system provided by their school. These services can be excellent and schools understand that underage drinking on campus can be a problem that has social, criminal and academic consequences.
The best part about student health services is that the health care is typically provided by the school through your tuition payment. You should check with your individual school about what is included in their health care options and if there is a coordination of benefits with your individual health insurance plan. This is another option that can save you and your parents a great deal of money.
Many courts will require that a student take an MIP class or educational course about underage drinking. A great resource that I use very often with my clients is www.michiganmip.com. This is an online course that will even provide a signed certificate of completion.
In conclusion, it is always a wise decision to take care of any alcohol problems before you face a judge and sentencing. However, if you are already facing these consequences, you need to be honest with yourself, your parents, and especially your attorney about your alcohol use.
I had a client who swore to me before a sentencing hearing that he would blow double zeros (.00) on the PBT even though I could smell alcohol on his breath. He chose to lie to the judge and she made him sit in the jury box while a deputy administered the PBT. He blew a .12 and spent the next couple days in jail as he was being sentenced for a drinking and driving charge that we had gotten reduced. Do not wait until it is too late to admit that you have a problem.
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