Students Learn Some Sober Truths

ST. MARYS — Local high school students received information on what exactly they can be punished for when it comes to alcohol — whether it’s having someone purchase it for them, drinking it with their parents or drinking with their friends.

Agent John Burton with the Ohio Investigative Unit spoke to the students in Monica VanderHorst’s health classes on Thursday about the “Sober Truth.”

“Right now you’re all underage, so you’re not able to use those types of things,” VanderHorst told her students, also including cigarettes and other types of tobacco. “So he’s going to tell you about the laws and what you should know and if later on down the road and you say, ‘Oh my gosh I didn’t know that,’ well you weren’t listening very well because he’s going to tell you everything you need to know about this subject.”

VanderHorst introduced Burton, who led off noting the use of fake IDs.

“Merely having an ID that’s fake or not yours, having it in your possession in your wallet or purse or coat, is against the law,” he said. “Nobody ever has it just to have it — possessing it is one crime and showing it is another.”

Burton noted if a person has an Ohio license and also is found with a fake ID, the person also faces the loss of driving privileges in addition to the charges for having the ID.

The Ohio Investigative Unit that Burton is with, he noted, is a state police agency.

“Where ever alcohol is sold or used in the state of Ohio is where we work, that is just about everywhere,” he said.

“We focus primarily on places that have a license to sell it — carry-outs, bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, concerts — all these places need a permit from the state, and we regulate the permits. While we are there, we get involved with crimes associated with alcohol, drugs, gambling, prostitution, stolen property, weapons violations, welfare fraud, check fraud, etc.”

Members of the unit, Burton added, wear plain clothes.

“We don’t always sneak up on people,” he said. “Sometimes we give presentations like this, we do detective work where we show up and say, ‘Hi, we need to talk to you about this,’ but most of the time if we are doing our job right, you will not know we are there.”

Burton noted because the agents don’t wear uniforms, they could be anywhere, something he said the students should take into consideration when they make the decision to drink underage or smoke tobacco underage.

“True test of your character is how you will act when no one is watching,” he said.

“With underage drinking, there are a million other consequences besides the law part I want you to think about. It’s not always the stuff you hear about all the time. I don’t show pictures of car wrecks — that’s one of a thousand things that happens when you drink.”

Burton reiterated the rules for those their age.

“If you’re not 21, legally you can’t drink, if you’re not 18, legally you can’t use tobacco of any sort,” Burton said.

“Since you are not old enough to have those things, any attempt you make to get your hands on them could get you in trouble with the law, whether you bought it yourself, whether you tried to buy them and they told you no at the store, if you gave someone money to buy it for you or if you magically found it somewhere and it ended up in your car, your coat, your backpack, your locker, that’s called possession.”

Burton noted a situation where two students would get someone to buy them alcohol, and where an agent happened to see it happen — and stressed the consequences extend to more than just a fine and classes.

He said the consequences would extend to their parents, who would be disappointed in them and probably come up with their own consequences for the students, to siblings who could use it against them in the future.

“When you get caught, that’s just the beginning,” Burton said. “It’s a ripple effect of consequences that can affect your everyday life.”

The consequences would also extend to school where peers would hear about what happened, as well as teachers — causing the students to get kicked off an athletic team or club, hurting everyone else involved.

Those are what the kids who do get caught have told him, Burton noted.

“School, home, all the changes that happen, those are the things I’ve heard from the kids after I arrest them,” he said.

“They all say, ‘If I had known all this stuff was going to happen to me, I wouldn’t have done, this.’ That’s why I’m here now.”

Burton also noted house parties.

“That’s why I’m there — one, you’re not old enough to drink, two, since you’re not old enough to drink anyone who sells it to you, buys it for you, lets you drink in their house is breaking the law,” he said. “One and two are the reason we should be at the party — if we can stop one and two before it gets out of control, it’s preventative to the DUIs, the date rapes, the alcohol poisonings, the drug overdoses, all those things that have gone on as a result of parties. That’s why we’re there.”

Burton added parents are allowed to give their kids alcohol, as long as they only give it to their children and if they’re with their children and as long as they don’t let their children get intoxicated. Parents, he noted, cannot throw their children a party.

Also with parties, Burton noted it is not illegal for an underage person to be at a party if they are not drinking, but if they bust the party, officers will contact the person’s parents.

If an underage drinker runs, he added it will only compound the consequences.

“It’s an additional criminal charge,” Burton noted, if a person tries to flee.

“If you get caught, tell the truth, doesn’t mean you won’t get in trouble, but you’ll be in more trouble if you lie.”