Security Corner: Drinking on and off campus

Every week, Colby Director of Security Robert Williams writes about a security issue that may affect the student population. 

So you’re hanging out behind Alfond Commons waiting for the shuttle, finishing off the beer that you took with you from the party you just left. This scene is becoming way too familiar and technically this is against the law.  This week I want to go over the laws surrounding drinking. Not to be preachy, but to maybe save you a lot of headaches down the road.    

This is not a law class and don’t expect that the judge will have any use for this article if you end up in front of her.  This is just the way it works in Waterville, Maine (actually everywhere in Maine) at one o’ clock in the morning when your eyes are trying to adjust to a flashlight being shined in your face. 

The first point of order is that you must be 21 years of age to possess or consume alcohol.  To most American students this is a no brainer. But in many countries the legal drinking age is 18.  The possession part of the law is fairly straightforward. You can’t have it, period. The consumption part can be a surprise to many.  A person can be charged with possession of alcohol by consumption if that person is under the age of 21 and they have consumed alcohol. You do not need to have a beer with you, a water bottle filled with wine, or a physical container with alcohol in it.   If you are not of legal age and the police detect alcohol on your breath, or, even better, you act like you’re drunk because you are, you can be charged. If they think, with some reasonable, articulable suspicion, such as your breath, bloodshot eyes, or other telltale signs of impairment, that you have been consuming— bam— your name is in the paper in the police blotter.  If you are under 18, and there are a few of you on campus, you get held until your parents are contacted. Then you have to be turned over to someone responsible, like your Dean.  

Drinking in public has a few more complications to it.  For starters, it has to be in a public place. Generally, Colby property is private.  Here is the tricky part. Areas that the public have access to can be argued as public places.  Places such as roadways, sidewalks, and parking lots. Downtown that would be the sidewalks around Alfond Commons, the roadway around the building, and the parking lot.  When you walk across the parking lot to the shuttle, you have entered public property. When you smuggle out that last beer from the bar and walk back to the Alfond Commons, you’re in a public place.  If you are at an off campus apartment and are on the sidewalk or street, that is a public place. 

After meeting the threshold of a public place you must be given a warning.  If, after being given a verbal warning, you are caught again, you can be charged with drinking in public.  If the police stop and tell you to dump your beer out, just do it. The police move on. Unfortunately there is always someone that wants to chug the last little bit because the 10 beers they already had aren’t enough.  Guess what? You were warned and now you’re walking home with a summons. There is no need for this to happen.

The second type of warning is signage.  If a public place has signs stating you cannot drink there, that’s your warning.  If the police see you drinking in an area that has signage, you do not get a verbal warning.  The sign is your warning. They can just write you up for drinking in public. 

All of the Concourse has these signs.  It may be worth a look on your way out to drink.  The mere possession of an open container of alcohol constitutes drinking in public.  Remember, the warning can be either verbally or by signage.

Hosting a party or even a place for people to drink is a huge liability.  In the simplest form, a minor drinking at any place you have control over, like your dorm room, off campus apartment, Alfond Commons, Senior Apartments, rented room, or a big field, you can be held liable for.   

If someone under 21 drinks at your off campus apartment and something goes wrong, you are screwed.  The easy scenario is if the police come to your apartment and there are a bunch of underage students drinking or drunk there. We often forget about what happens after they leave.  The police find them walking down the street heaving on someone’s roses. If they track it back to your place, you own it. Worse yet, they get hit by a vehicle wandering around. The situations are endless.  I think you get the point. 

 The next thing I want to discuss has consequences far beyond the individual.  It’s drinking in a motor vehicle or having an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.  The operator or their passengers cannot drink or have open containers of alcohol in a motor vehicle that is in a public place.  That means roads, parking lots, or other places that the public freely has access to. The obvious reason is people shouldn’t be driving around drinking.   Bad news is, the ticket goes to the operator. 

There is no exception for the shuttle.  When you sneak an open beer onto the shuttle the playing field gets a little larger.  Not only is it a state violation, it is a federal violation under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  The driver’s commercial license can be suspended and the College could be fined as well. Usually the fines are rather hefty to prove a point.  Worse case scenario, the College’s operating rights could be suspended and there would be no shuttle. Anything to do with the shuttle brings in a completely different set of rules, regulations, and laws.  None of which we want to deal with. 

Here’s the bottom line: drink responsibly.  I have seen the consequences of irresponsible drinking.  It’s tragic to say the least. I would rather you be upset that you got written up on campus than written up off campus where the costs are higher and longer lasting.