City amends laws regarding minors consuming alcohol

Back in 2014, the City of Bethel adopted all minor offenses in the State of Alaska as they currently existed. However, the ordinance exempted one specific minor offense – Minor Consuming Alcohol.

The City of Bethel council passed Ordinance 18-17 that amends the Bethel Municipal Code to include MCAs as part of the statutes and regulations of the State of Alaska relating to minor offenses as they presently exist.

The rationale for exempting minors consuming alcohol was that while a minor offense, the Alaska Supreme Court had ruled the minors were entitled to a public defender in those cases due to the potential for jail time and the loss of their drivers licenses, says the ordinance.

“While the City found the protection of minors to be extremely important, the City lacked the resources to pay the high cost associated with paying for a public defender and all the associated costs that come with that representation,” Ordinance 18-17 states, which was sponsored by City Manager Pete Williams.

The offense of MCA was recently amended by the legislature to return it to a regular minor offense with no possibility of jail time or the loss of a driver’s license. As a result of the recent amendment to the law, minors are no longer entitled to representation by a public defender and by extension the City would no longer be subject to the high cost associated with prosecuting these types of cases, states Ord. 18-17.

Furthermore, without the cost deterrent the City is free to treat this type of minor offense as it does all others – the City would be the ones prosecuting the minor offenses and providing representation instead of the District Attorney’s Office.

“Now that these offenses have the criminal aspect removed, the City can focus on getting help and assistance to youth at an early stage in the hopes of preventing issues with alcohol as they reach adulthood,” the ordinance concludes.

City Council voted to introduce the ordinance during their July 10th, 2018 regular meeting and the motion to adopt also passed 6-0 during the July 24th, 2018 meeting.