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The Athens Police Department on North College St. Athens, Ohio. March 29, 2024

Know your rights; navigating fest season, underage consumption

Now that Fest Season is officially here, students and partygoers alike will soon crowd the streets along with employees of the Athens Police Department and other law enforcement agencies. 

With the next big fest weekend including Congo and High fests, located on Congress Street and High Street, April 12-13, managing attorney at The Center for Student Legal Services Stephanie Russell-Ramos shared tips for staying out of trouble. 

Students under the legal drinking age shouldn’t go to places that are permitted premises locations, including bars, or attempt to buy from anywhere that sells alcohol, Ramos said. 

While police can enforce underage drinking laws, so can the Ohio Department of Liquor Control – who are typically dressed in plain clothes. 

“Any place that has a permit to sell alcohol is where you'll see (liquor control) agents,” Ramos said. “So, that could be a liquor store, that could be a gas station, that could be a bar.”

Fests are block parties though, so the get-togethers happen in backyards – outside of permitted premise locations. 

Ramos said to stay in the grass and not go on the sidewalk with alcohol. If leaving a party, students should leave alcohol behind. 

“Even if you are 21, you can get charged with public intoxication of an open container and those sorts of things, as well as (disorderly conduct by intoxication),” Ramos said. 

If a police officer stops a student, the best thing to do is to stay respectful and answer identifying questions, like your name, address and birthdate, Ramos said. 

However, if it is an interaction based on underage consumption and giving a birthdate is self-incriminating, a person doesn’t have to provide that information, Ramos said. 

“You are not required to answer all of their questions or any other of their questions, and you can always ask for an attorney, you can always say ‘I’m not going to incriminate myself,'” she said. 

Mill Fest kicked off March 23 with the Athens Police Department, or APD, issuing one citation for disorderly conduct by intoxication with resisted arrest and another case for an underage consumption charge for the whole weekend, APD Chief of Police Nick Magruder said. However, Magruder said the Ohio Department of Liquor Control’s agents in plain clothes handed out a lot of citations for open container violations.

“It's very likely the way that the majority of the officers charge here in Athens, you are charged and released as long as there's someone that can come pick you up if you appear to be intoxicated,” Ramos said. “If you just have a fake ID, and you're charged, you're likely going to be released soon. It's very rare that they take individuals to jail.”

Ramos said student legal services can see up to 50 underage consumption, or UAC, cases for the entirety of Fest Season.

Magruder said BORGs have been a “huge issue.” 

According to Poison Control, a black-out rage gallon, or BORG, is about half a gallon of water with up to a fifth of vodka added, along with water flavoring and electrolyte powder. 

“Walking around with an open container is one thing that we've noticed, and that also the Dartment of Liquor Control (has noticed),” Magruder said. “They're the ones that really hammered those violations and cite a lot of people for that.”

Magruder said there are two types of citations given: a minor misdemeanor for people over the age of 21 for disorderly conduct, which is similar to a traffic ticket, and a third-degree misdemeanor for a UAC, which includes a mandatory court appearance.  

A first-time offender for a UAC is usually eligible for a diversion program, which can seal the person’s record upon successful completion, Diversion Program Coordinator Kate Enger said. 

“The story I hear the most is just that they were at something like a fest, and it's usually a liquor control agent pulled them aside and said, ‘I’d like to see some ID,’” Enger said.

There are five requirements to complete the program. 

A participant must pay a $195 program fee and a $160 court fee within three months of enrolling, according to the alcohol diversion program contract

There’s a community service day to be useful to the community, Enger said. It’s an eight-hour day of volunteering with the city or at a nonprofit organization. 

Participants can take the mandatory class right after the service day, which knocks out two of the requirements. 

People also have to read the book “Drinking Games” by K.T. Hovland and complete a writing assignment, according to the contract. 

The program requires participants to remain sober for the full three months of the service.

“It's 90 days to really actively seek out things to do away from the bars and away from the fests and we are more than happy … to suggest to people things they can do,” Enger said. 

A participant who successfully completes all five requirements has their records sealed, Enger said.

“It's like, all right, you understood that what you did was not the best idea,” Magruder said. 

However, partygoers aren’t the only people who run the risk of getting a citation. Party hosts can also get into trouble. 

A nuisance party is defined by the Athens City Code as a social gathering that involves disorderly conduct, illegal open containers, public outdoor urination or defecation, unlawful sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages and more. 

The citation is an administrative ticket that requires the crowd to disperse, Magruder said. If people don’t leave, the party host is hit with a minor misdemeanor, which requires a court appearance. 

At some point throughout a fest day, Magruder said, APD decides the entire street is a nuisance due to the pileup of issues and shuts the whole street down. 

“One of the biggest issues we have is a lot of pushback on people saying, ‘You can't make me leave,’” Magruder said. “Unfortunately, we can if it's deemed a nuisance party.”


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