Court Orders D.C. to Stop Criminally Charging Underage Drinkers

The District of Columbia Superior Court has ordered Washington, D.C., to halt its practice of filing criminal charges against underage drinkers, the Washington Post reported May 30.

The ruling was made in a case filed by college students and others arrested and charged with underage possession of alcohol.

Judge Zoe Bush ruled that under city law, possession of alcohol by a minor is a civil offense, punishable by fines and suspensions of driving privileges. As a civil infraction, offenders should have been given a citation rather than being, and held at the police station.

D.C. police and prosecutors argued that the city law was changed in 2001 to say that underage alcohol possession was a criminal offense. David Rubenstein, deputy attorney general for public safety, said the threat of arrest served as a deterrent.

“What happens, by decriminalizing it, is the police lose the ability to use it as a law-enforcement tool, and there is a substantially reduced deterrent effect for young people,” Rubenstein said.