Fall is almost here and school is back in session. Many college students pack their bags and move away from home, possibly for the first time. They get ready to go out and experience college nightlife, a preconceived notion of what that means likely already formed in their mind. Underage drinking is an extremely common problem, not just in college, but in high school as well.

I’m going to explain what steps you can take in the instance you have contact with the police related to an underage drinking or a public drunkenness investigation. Let’s be clear, I’m not encouraging you to drink underage. I am merely going to enlighten you as to your rights.

In Columbus, underage drinking charges are common. However, you can take steps to avoid an underage drinking conviction.

1.  Immediately talk to an Attorney.

My first tidbit of advice applies to all charges. If you receive a summary offense citation, the very first thing you should do is speak to an attorney! The fact that you may be factually guilty doesn’t mean that an attorney can’t help you. It’s far easier to nip these types of things in the bud than to try to get them off your record later.

2.  “I would rather not answer”.

You have he right to remain silent. This next tip should be fairly obvious, but most people charged with underage drinking fall into this trap. If a cop asks you whether you have been drinking, don’t say yes! You have a right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. It becomes much more difficult to win a case at trial where there is a confession to one of the major elements of the offense.

However, I suggest that you not lie to the police if you were, in fact, drinking. You can either say, “I would rather not answer” or “I would like to invoke my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.” At that point, the police officer is supposed to cease any further questioning.

3.  “Just say no”….to a breathalyzer.

My next tip…don’t agree to submit to a breathalyzer test. Lots of people have a misconception that they have to submit to a breathalyzer test any time a police officer asks them to do so. That’s simply not true. What is true is that a motorist suspected of driving under the influence must submit to a chemical blood test or a certified breath test, or he’ll lose his driver’s license for a year for the refusal. You’re NEVER required to submit to a breath test while under investigation for underage drinking or public drunkenness.

If you do submit to a breathalyzer and test positive for alcohol, especially if your BAC is high, the officer will then try to manipulate you into a confession. The cop is just doing his or her job by using a tried and true police tactic. That being said, you aren’t obligated to make the cop’s job any easier.

4.  Leave your ID at home.

Next, you need to be aware that you don’t have to show the cop your ID when you’re stopped, for the simple reason that in the United States, citizens are not required to carry identification with them….unless you’re driving.

In that case, you must present your driver’s license. But, if you’re just walking back to the dorms or standing around an OSU tailgate, you are not required to carry an ID with you just in case a cop happens to ask to see it.

This is really important for the simple reason that the crime of underage drinking in Ohio is defined as possession, consumption or the attempt to purchase alcohol while being less than 21 years of age. Meaning that the arresting officer, at trial, has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were, in fact, less than 21 years of age.

The mere fact that you really are 18, 19 or 20 years old is not enough for a conviction. The officer has to prove it. Typically at trial, the officer will testify that he or she observed your ID and noted your date of birth.

5.  Don’t lie to the police.

While we’re on the subject of IDs, I should make it perfectly clear that you should NEVER lie about your identity or date of birth to the police. If you’re under an official police investigation for a crime like underage drinking, and you give the officer a fake name or date of birth, you could be charged with false identification.

6.  Be polite.

Now for my final tip, which may be the most useful of all. You should never be rude or combative with the police. Expressing your frustration by being obnoxious to the police never does anyone any good. Being polite and cooperative will go a long way. Remain polite while explaining that you left your ID at home, declining a breath test or refusing to answer whether you have been drinking or not.

If you’ve been charged with underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct or related offense, call Terry Sherman at (614) 444-8800 for a free consultation.