'Quick justice' for underage drinkers can have long-term implications
Many of us judges do not encounter underage drinking cases regularly, and when we do, the encounter is a brief one at best. Juvenile alcohol offenders (those under age 18), are often diverted from us because it is believed that their cases can be handled sufficiently without going through the court process.
Going to court requires considerable time from all of the parties involved – the offender, a responsible adult, defense attorney, law enforcement, and the court – and there is a pervasive feeling that little will be achieved. As a result, many officers utilize a “catch and release” approach in which the juvenile is caught and released, with or without a citation, to a parent or other presumptively responsible person. For older underage drinkers, who are no longer juveniles, the “quick justice” response is often chosen. “Quick justice” includes a first appearance judicial hearing within 24 hours, the offer of a payable fine and/or a sentence of time served, and a warning not to re-offend.
The immediate effect of “catch and release” or “quick justice” dispositions is one of convenience and a lesser burden on law enforcement and the judicial system. Unfortunately, too often the long-term effect is the exact opposite - an increased burden. What may seem like youthful indiscretion or a rite of passage may, in fact, be a red flag.
Neither the “catch and release” nor the “quick justice” approach addresses the core problem of many underage drinkers, that of potentially escalating alcohol use and dependence. Failure to identify alcohol dependency or other problems in the juvenile’s life at this juncture can lead to future alcohol-related offenses and further contact with the criminal justice system. The only way to address the escalation in consumption is intervention at the earliest stages by screening and assessing offenders and identifying those who are at risk to continue abuse.
Judges occupy a pivotal position in being able to encourage law enforcement agencies to formally bring underage alcohol offenders into our justice system where a multi-disciplinary approach involving screening, assessment, probation, and treatment referral can be utilized as needed.
In an effort to foster this judicial leadership, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) has developed a new online course for judges, “Effective Judicial Interventions for Underage Drinking Offenders.” This interactive course gives judges building blocks and guidance that they can utilize, together with other criminal justice stakeholders, to build an effective systems approach to address underage drinking.
Collaboration is essential and we judges have to use our discretionary authority to bring stakeholders together to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy that focuses on the underage offender. This can be done ethically in the same manner that judges have collaborated with other stakeholders to address issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, impaired driving, and other offenses. Effective judicial interventions in underage offender cases can make the difference of a lifetime in helping a young person to have a healthy, productive, and law-abiding future.
Judge Karl Grube is a Senior Judge in Florida and a Judicial Outreach Liaison. He has worked with Responsibility.org for 15 years, especially on hardcore drunk driving issues. Judge Grube joined the Judicial Education Advisory Committee in 2002 and helped prepare the Hardcore Drunk Driving Judicial Guide. In 2014, he taught courtroom trial procedure and practice at the first-of-its-kind law school course, sponsored by Responsibility.org, aimed at educating students about the complexities of DUI cases at Suffolk University Law School.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) or any Responsibility.org member.*