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How serious is this, really?
October 29, 2007 1:07 AM   Subscribe

My inner stupidity surfaced and I got a "Minor In Possession" this weekend in Santa Barbara, CA. I just realized this is a misdemeanor. This is causing me considerable distress, and I have some questions.

I'm a 19 year old male and attend California State University, Long Beach.

I'm always the responsible one. The last guy people would expect to get in trouble with the law. Straight-A student. I've always taken pride in my ability to partake in college socializing while keeping a head on my shoulders. But this weekend in Santa Barbara a short walk 2 apartments away turned into me walking into a cop with a Jack In The Box cup half an inch full of a mixed drink (classy I know). He gave me a ticket, told me when I had to go to court by, and I still feel like an utter, complete idiot.

I basically have a barrage of questions that I can't seem to get a straight answer on between the internet and my friends and family:

-How serious is a "Minor In Possession" misdemeanor, really? In the short run? In the big life picture?
-I know the judge could chose to suspend my license, does this seem extreme?
-What is the fine/consequence typically?
-Will this be on my criminal record forever? Does it somehow fall off after time?
-I'm really afraid this will hinder me from getting jobs, doing volunteer work, and anything else that asks for criminal records. How legitimate is this fear? Am I overreacting?
-At this point I see myself being very comfortable as a professor at a university, is this thing on my record going to be a problem in my path towards that long term goal?
-Is there any way to get this off my record? A friend said he did tons of community service and was cleared.
-Should I consult a lawyer?
-What is the best possible approach towards getting most lenient sentence?
posted by Defenestrator to Law & Government (21 answers total)
 
First of all, don't worry - you'll be fine. My younger sister got one while on school property and they gave her a little guide on how to resolve it. Instead of paying a fine, she took a class, was on probation for three months and had to do community service. You can probably work out something to have the charges dropped, otherwise it might go on your record, but because it's a misdemeanor it won't affect your background checks/etc.

When you go see the judge, be respectful, and wear a jacket and tie. They notice and appreciate the effort.
posted by lhall at 1:14 AM on October 29, 2007


Oh, also the "work something out" bit means that they'll probably say, if you don't violate your probation it gets dropped.

However, I googled and found this thread, which says in CA that they're required to suspend your license...but that you might be able to get a restricted one for home/school/work:

http://www.expertlaw.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13151

There's some good advice on there but if you can, it might be worth consulting a lawyer. Good luck!
posted by lhall at 1:21 AM on October 29, 2007


If you were in Isla Vista, you're in good company, since you're probably the first of many, many kids who will get busted this week in IV. Don't beat yourself up too much.

Here are a few links with information on this charge and the text of the statute. It does sound likely from what I'm reading that your license will be suspended if you're convicted, but a real lawyer is your best bet for those kinds of questions.
posted by lemuria at 1:26 AM on October 29, 2007


This happened to me way back when. It was in a college town and there was a well-established routine that hundreds of kids went through: go to your court date, ask for a pre-trial diversion, pay some court costs, do community service/ alcohol class and don't get in trouble for 6 months, then you get a letter that says we're all square. Case gets dismissed, no conviction.
posted by milkrate at 1:59 AM on October 29, 2007


-How serious is a "Minor In Possession" misdemeanor, really? In the short run? In the big life picture?

Not very, unless you're going to law school. Even then, probably not a major issue.

-What is the fine/consequence typically?


My friend paid about 300 bucks and spent a Saturday in an alcohol awareness class. That was in small town MO, so YMMV.

-I'm really afraid this will hinder me from getting jobs, doing volunteer work, and anything else that asks for criminal records. How legitimate is this fear? Am I overreacting?


Yes, very probably. An MIP isn't exactly like taking a murder rap.

-At this point I see myself being very comfortable as a professor at a university, is this thing on my record going to be a problem in my path towards that long term goal?

Academics are notoriously lax on things like drugs and alcohol (at least compared to real-world jobs) I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:19 AM on October 29, 2007


Lawyer up, even if it means calling mommy and daddy to get the money. It's serious.
posted by caddis at 4:43 AM on October 29, 2007


It's almost certainly not serious, but talk to a lawyer who has experience with this sort of thing, they'll know the best options for your locale much better than most folks here will.

Also:

-How serious is a "Minor In Possession" misdemeanor, really? In the short run? In the big life picture?

Not very, unless you're going to law school. Even then, probably not a major issue.


A huge number of law students (and lawyers) these days have alcohol-related arrests and convictions... you'd probably be surprised. If they eliminated everyone who had even just one MIP, they'd be unable to fill their classes in a lot of cases. The most important thing is that you disclose it on your application and don't make a habit of this sort of thing.
posted by toomuchpete at 6:01 AM on October 29, 2007


Yes, people have them, but not having a record, even if it is stupid crap, is better. A lawyer can help prevent a conviction, or if one is inevitable, have that record expunged after a couple of years of no more convictions. It's worth the money.
posted by caddis at 6:57 AM on October 29, 2007


Relax, you're overreacting. But it wouldn't hurt to talk to a lawyer if you're really uncertain about how to proceed. I assume you were respectful to the cop; this is good. Continue to be respectful in court and you'll be fine.
posted by Koko at 6:57 AM on October 29, 2007


Defenestrator, you sound like me 3 years ago. I remember totally flipping out. Don't worry, I'll be your friend here:

It's very, very easy to get the case dismissed. Your only barrier here is $$$. If you have $$$, anything becomes possible.

This is what you need to do:

1) Talk to a lawyer in CA. They'll give you a free consultation. Going with a lawyer is a good idea- the world of government is filled with stupid forms and if you miss one, no one is likely to care and feel bad for you. This type of thing will cost you in the range of $150-$250. I went to the best lawyer in my town (he later defended a Duke LAX player) and he wanted $500 for this.

2) Show up for your court date. The better the lawyer, the longer he will have known the Assistant DA, and the more leeway he can get with whatever you have to do.

3) You might have to do some community service, or some actual work besides paying the $$$. Doing this also involves paying $$$ to enroll in the community service program. This depends on your state, though. CA is pretty enlightened, (NC was not). I had to do 50 hours of community service, which was the maximum, but the DA turned out to be Mike Nifong, and he later turned out to be a real winner.

4) After you complete whatever you have to do, the case will show up as "dismissed". It won't disappear, it'll just won't be "guilty" or "guilty"- it'll just be "case dismissed."

Based on my Law and Order JD, this is pretty good for me, but if you want to make it go away even more...

5) You can get the case expunged. This is a petition you file that shows how awesome you've been and if it's approved, they'll scrub everything from your computers and you can legally deny that this ever happened. Expungement is all paperwork, and will probably cost like $150-$250.

I still haven't gotten my case expunged, because it hasn't really affected my life in anyway. I'll probably get it at some point though- be careful, my lawyer told me you only get one expungement per lifetime (I don't know if he was oversimplifying this, or if its just NC law, so real lawyers, feel free to correct me), so you might want to save it until you really "need" it.

Now that it's been 3 years, I can look back with a little sense of perspective. I was a real mess when this happened. I come from a conservative South Asian background, and I really thought that this was the end of the world.

My experience was probably the most important experience I had in college when it came to defining my relationship with my parents- it was perhaps the single-most positive thing I ever could have done. You'd be surprised at how much your parents care for you when you really need it- so I really encourage you to tell your parents if you haven't already. There was definitely hell to pay, but the whole thing made our relationship closer b/c they realized I was growing up. After all is said and done, I'm kind of glad it happened.

Of course, if you don't want to tell your parents that's your decision, but be aware that lawyers can look up who recently got cited, as it's public record, and you'll get post cards at the address on your driver's license (which I assume is the address where your parents live). The postcards will say stuff like, "Do you need representation for an alcohol-related offense?", and smart parents will figure it out.

Also check out the implications from your University. When I got my citation, they didn't really care, but after the whole LAX thing, Duke now reviews each case and informs the parents about it, which is kind of a pain, but better safe than sorry.

Anyways, I hope this helps!
posted by unexpected at 7:22 AM on October 29, 2007


Speaking as someone a little older than OP who has had several post-college [i.e. "real"] jobs and filled out lots of applications and interviewed dozens of times: No one ever asked about misdemeanors-- only felonies seem to matter.
posted by markhu at 7:51 AM on October 29, 2007


To be honest, I'd be concerned with a lack of this thing on your record. Its no biggie. I went through my bar interview with this thing and it wasn't a problem at all.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:59 AM on October 29, 2007


get a lawyer to advise you on whether you should go to trial. i'm wondering how well the officer documented that the contents of your cup was actually alcoholic.
posted by bruce at 9:29 AM on October 29, 2007


Misdemeanors aren't usually something that people are cinsidering when you're applying for jobs, etc. As far as bigger picture, I'd say even a future in politics (for you, the "worst-case-scenario") would probably be OK. I think the public at large would be pretty tolerant of the revelation of the underage drinking of a political figure, particularly if it was obvious that drinking wasn't a present problem. An illegal drug would be quite different. Or maybe not.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:31 AM on October 29, 2007


If you are really that worried then get a lawyer. It is their job to get you out of trouble.
posted by pwally at 10:01 AM on October 29, 2007


California = You are very likely going to lose your license. I'd at least talk to a lawyer to see if you have a chance of another outcome.
posted by Big_B at 10:13 AM on October 29, 2007


The last employment check I went through wanted to know about convictions of felonies, misdemeanors, and non-traffic violations. I was happy that there were none to disclose.

I think you probably want to not have this on your record. Get a lawyer, he can probably get the case dismissed, or postponed-never-to-be-brought-up-again, or whatever it is that lawyers do when this kind of thing happens.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:16 AM on October 29, 2007


I would think your university has a "Student Services Center" for general help-in-the-real-world situations (apartment leases, out-of-state-students sorting out their driver's licenses and car registrations, etc) who, if they can't give you advice, can recommend an affordable, competent lawyer. And that they see a lot of this and you needn't feel at all awkward about asking.
posted by Martin E. at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2007


chrisamiller's caveat:

-How serious is a "Minor In Possession" misdemeanor, really? In the short run? In the big life picture?

Not very, unless you're going to law school. Even then, probably not a major issue.


is wrong (sorry chris). I went to a top tier law school with a minor in possession on my record. No-one noticed or cared at the school or the Board of Examiners. I mentioned it on most of my law school applications (and was accepted; even with scholarships) although I forgot to mention it my application for the school I attended and had to go through the hassle of *correcting* my documentation before sitting for the Bar and no-one gave a rat's ass. A single M-I-P is like a traffic ticket. It's a misdemeanor violation of what is essentially a regulatory scheme. Most employment checks even word the Declaration of Conviction question to exclude misdemeanors (such as moving violations and minor-in-possession) for which you plead guilty or no contest (I don't know if CA does a nolo plea).

Don't sweat it. But check with your school or a local criminal defense attorney if you're really worried.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:44 AM on October 29, 2007


Good to hear that I was wrong and that MIPs aren't any barrier to law school. The only reason I mentioned it is because a friend of mine obsessively worried about it in undergrad.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:05 AM on October 29, 2007


Eh. I've got an instance of possession controlled substance (marijuana) and another instance of reckless use fire/explosives.

A medical school, of all places, overlooked this (I reported it) and still gave me an acceptance.

I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by porpoise at 4:17 PM on October 29, 2007


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