With football season in full swing, students and fans seem to cross alcohol at every turn. From tailgates to house parties to bars along High Street, one can forget how easy it can be to violate open container and underage drinking laws – and pay very real consequences.
Ohio State Police Chief Paul Denton said these laws are black and white.
“You can’t have an open container of beer. No person – adult, underage, anyone – can have an open container of beer or liquor in any public place,” Denton said.
University Police cited 12 people on campus for violating open container laws on Saturday when the Buckeyes opened up their season against Miami (Ohio), according to police logs. All 12 arrests were non-affiliates of the university and of legal drinking age. Last season when OSU opened against
Akron on Sept. 3, 14 people were cited for breaking this law, two of whom were under 21.
Denton said there is no hidden meaning to the term “public place,” meaning the second people step foot off private property, they run the risk of receiving a ticket for breaking the state of Ohio’s open container law, a minor misdemeanor.
The consequences are much worse if the violator is under the age of 21. Anyone under the legal drinking age cannot possess alcohol, even in an unopened container, Denton said.
“That’s a misdemeanor of the first degree,” Denton said. “It’s on the same level as domestic violence, assault, resisting arrest … it’s the same level of seriousness.”
Denton added that violators of both laws might also be in violation of university policies regarding alcohol possession and consumption, which applies to more than just students.
“The other punishment is the university has policies about regulating and governing alcoholic beverages for faculty, staff, student employees, students, volunteers and visitors,” Denton said.
OSU’s official policy states, “The use of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on the premises of The Ohio State University unless an exception for a special event is requested and written approval is granted … (or) it occurs in university premises licensed to sell alcohol.”
The policy states, “Any student, faculty member, staff member, volunteer or visitor found to be in violation of local, state, and/or federal law, or who violate the university’s alcohol and other drug policies, are subject to university disciplinary procedures and/or referral to the appropriate authorities for legal prosecution.”
Jade Lackey, a second-year in public affairs, said she received a hefty fine and a required alcohol class when she was ticketed last year for sitting in front of a beer at a bar.
“I had a draft beer mug in my hand and I put it down on a table,” Lackey said. “(Some police officers) came up to me and asked how old I was and I said 19. And they said, ‘Put your hands behind your back, you’re under arrest.’ It was like $1,000 when all was said and done, and I had to go to a drug and alcohol, all-day class because I was underage.”
Logan Oates, a fourth-year in communication, warns that the harm of underage drinking doesn’t end at the legal level.
“You’re putting those people you’re providing to in jeopardy because they don’t really understand how to consume alcohol appropriately and what their personal limits are,” Oates said. “Especially with first-years, they’re balancing so much other stuff with their academics and being away from home. That alcohol can easily become a crutch for them.”
Denton said underage drinkers should know about another program through the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office called the STOP program.
“It’s run by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office as a task force,” Denton said. “They have undercover officers that look for underage drinkers. That program does work weekends and particularly on Saturdays on game days. It’s in student neighborhoods but they do not work on campus.”
Denton emphasized that the task force operates strictly off campus and does not include any University Police officers, and these officers can and will check that partygoers are of the legal drinking age.
“They will be in plain clothes and if they observe someone in their front yard or at a party that looks underage, they’ll come in and ask for ID, and they’ll issue summons, which are mandatory court appearances,” Denton said.
Denton said that overall he has a high opinion of OSU students and fans and their behavior and encouraged them to be mindful of their actions to avoid run-ins with OSU police and STOP program officers.
“We’d like to see our students avoid that (situation),” Denton said. “The more you police yourselves and watch your own conduct, the far better you’ll be to avoid calling attention to the police or law enforcement.
“I think people here are serious sports fans,” Denton said. “They come here, the culture’s right, they do a lot to uphold the reputation.”