Due to a recent law change, underage citizens may not have to worry about getting caught by police for the possession and consumption of alcohol. Senate Bill 160, which went into effect July 1, now instructs police to issue a citation to offenders of underage drinking, rather than making an arrest. The citation still carries a fine of $300 and up to six months of jail time. The law change effects police departments statewide.
Previously, the law allowed police officers to arrest offenders and have them booked at their discretion. The new law no longer offers this as an option. However, despite the change, inhabitants of Statesboro may not recognize a difference. According to Officer Justin Samples, who works Public Relations for Statesboro Police Department, the police here have almost always practiced a method of “cite and release.”
“We did this even before the law changed,” says Samples. “…if we saw an underage person in possession of alcohol, either in consumption of it or just by having a beer in their hand, and that was it, we would cite and release.”
However, police can arrest an offender for a number of other issues regarding alcohol. Disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and driving under the influence are all crimes that an officer can decide to arrest an offender of underage drinking for. Additionally, an officer can, at their discretion, arrest an offender if it is believed the offender could be a danger to themselves or to others.
“It’s about the totality of the circumstances,” says Samples. “Whats situation, where are they, what time, how the weather is like, how intoxicated are they, do they have friends with them that can get them where they need to go…there’s a whole bunch of things taken into account to make sure we get them somewhere safe.