Underage Drinkers in Illinois Provided Immunity During Emergencies

 Posted on January 29, 2016 in Underage Drinking

underage drinkers, Chicago Area Criminal Defense AttorneyPut yourself in the shoes of a teenage or underage drinker at a party: You see somebody sick, passed out, at risk of alcohol poisoning, and in need of help, but what do you do? For any adult, the choice is clear—seek professional help immediately. For an underage drinker, however, the choice may not be as easy.

Illinois provides immunity for those that call for help in situations of drug overdose due to serious drugs like heroine. If the victim's life was at risk, whoever made the call to authorities would be protected from any serious criminal repercussions. In years past, however, the same immunity was not afforded to underage drinkers, leaving some state lawmakers worried. Stuck between calling for help for a potentially dying friend or facing the legal consequences of drinking underage, experts worried that underage drinkers would make the wrong choice. Now, thanks to a new law that went into effect on the first of this month, special immunity may be provided to underage drinkers that calls for help in life threatening situations.

State lawmakers say that the new protection is not meant to serve as a free pass for underage drinkers, but instead protect youths whose lives may be at serious risk due to drinking. Before the measure went into effect, one Illinois State Representative recalled a situation where a minor was in dire need of medical attention, but those around him were hesitant to seek help. “People were reluctant to call for help, but someone did. And then both the teenager and the friend who called ended up getting a citation for the situation. The parents felt that was wrong, because we ought to be trying to protect kids rather than deter them from seeking medical help.”

The new measure only applies to the person in need of medical help and whoever was involved in calling paramedics to the scene. Lawmakers say that if a police officer arrives at a party and discovers someone in need of medical help, immunity will not be provided, as no one actually made the call for help. The law also allows police officers to determine who receives immunity and who does not, and those seeking immunity must be willing to fully cooperate with medical personnel and law enforcement agents. “This legislation should not be viewed as being soft on crime, because it is not,” said an Illinois lawmaker. “I just think there is a difference between being soft on crime and being smart on policy, ... and the public policy is that we do not want kids to die.”

The state’s most recent statistics show that in Illinois, there were nine alcohol-induced deaths of people under 21 between the years of 2008 and 2012. According to the Illinois Department of Health, those nine deaths were alcohol overdoses only, and the numbers do not show deaths where alcohol was a significant contributing factor.

In Illinois alone, thousands of underage drinkers are seen in hospitals for alcohol-related emergencies. In January, 2015, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that of the alcohol related deaths in America, many of them were underreported.

Advocates say the next step in the process is informing underage young people across the state of the immunity law in place. One Indiana advocate recalls losing her child due to underage drinking two months after the state had passed a law similar to Illinois’. The partygoers feared legal repercussions, and by the time 911 was alerted, it was too late. “Every year there is a new batch of teenagers, and if they do not know about the law, then it is not going to help.”

Consequences of Underage Drinking in Illinois

While the state’s new measure may protect underage drinkers who find themselves in emergency situations, underage drinkers in Illinois still need to be aware of the serious consequences they may face if they are caught by law enforcement. If charged with consumption or possession of alcohol, Illinois minors could face misdemeanor criminal charges, and if they are found driving, a license suspension and further penalties. If found using a false form of identification to acquire alcohol, then minors could face the felony offense of possession of false identification.

If you or your child are facing any criminal charges, including those related to alcohol, you need the help of a qualified Chicago area criminal defense attorney. The team at the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney is available to assist you immediately with any criminal charges. Our attorneys have years of experience and have handled a variety of cases. We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for you or your child. Call 312-629-0669 as soon as possible to schedule a consultation with our team today.

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