March 1, 2014, signaled the beginning of the 2014 college spring break era for local communities and law enforcement in Walton County and Okaloosa County. For the next few weeks college students will travel to the beaches of South Walton and Destin to unwind from college. With the increased vehicular and pedestrian traffic as a result of spring break, local attorneys like myself also see an increase in the number of persons (spring breakers) arrested or cited for Underage Possession of Alcohol (also referred to as Minor in Possession), Open House Parties, DUI, and other criminal offenses such as drug offenses.
By the end of the final major spring break week last year, the number of citations for Underage Possession of Alcohol alone had reached approximately 1100. This nearly double the 600 citations from the year prior. In total, Walton County alone issued over 1800 citations (Notices to Appear) for Underage Possession of Alcohol in all of 2013.
As a result of the increase in citations issued in 2014, and the general perception from law enforcement and the community alike that spring break has reached its tipping point, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office has vowed to crack down even more this year. One very noticeable change already publicized by Walton County is the decision to arrest Underage Possession of Alcohol offenders rather than simply issuing the Notice to Appear as in years past. See the recent story from March, 2014 in the local Walton Sun: http://www.waltonsun.com/news/walton-county-to-take-aggressive-stand-during-spring-break-1.284022?tc=cr
The most common offense for college students is ”Possession of Alcoholic Beverages by Persons under the age 21″ (Minor in Possession) - Florida Statute 562.111. For an individual who has received a citation for minor in possession(MIP), the law reads in pertinent part: ” It is unlawful for any person under the age of 21 years…to have in his or her possession alcoholic beverages.”
Law enforcement travel on foot and on ATV looking for unsuspecting college students who may be in possession of a beer can, bottle , or mixed drink and whom they believe to be underage. See: http://www.nwfdailynews.com/articles/spring-48251-beach-breaker.html
A first violation of this law is punishable as a second degree misdemeanor and could result in the suspension or revocation of the individual’s driver’s license. In some counties (e.g. Walton County), subsequent convictions may result in jail time.
If an individual receives a Notice to Appear or goes to jail for Underage Possession of Alcohol or is Arrested for Minor in Possession while in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Santa Rosa Beach or anywhere in Okaloosa or Walton County, Florida, I recommend that person consult with a local criminal defense lawyer. An attorney may be able to assist the individual in obtaining pretrial diversion or a deferred prosecution so the student may be able to avoid a conviction.
Some students, or parents of students, are unaware that the payment of the fine will result in the criminal charge remaining on the individual’s criminal history, unless he or she is subsequently eligible to expunge or seal the offense. In fact, some internet gurus who provide “legal advice” have suggested that the individual simply pay the fine since the fine is only $250.00, but failed to explain the potential ramifications.
For more on past articles for Walton County Spring Break visit the links posted below or visit the Northwest Florida Daily News or Walton Sun for more information
Jeremy S. Keich is a Destin criminal defense attorney with an office in Miramar Beach (Walton County). As a Walton County criminal defense lawyer, I have helped clients resolve these spring break offenses and alcohol related offenses.
If you have been charged with minor in possession, driving under the influence or any other criminal offense while in Destin, Fort Walton Beach or anywhere in Northwest Florida during spring break, feel free to contact this Destin Criminal Defense Lawyer at (850) 460-2989 or visit http://www.keichlaw.com for more information.
WARNING: Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice nor should it be construed as an attorney-client relationship.