Legal Loophole: Teens Found with Drugs & Alcohol Getting Lighter Sentences in GJ

By: Jessica Zartler Email
By: Jessica Zartler Email

A loophole in Grand Junction City ordinances is letting teens who are found with drugs and alcohol off with a lighter sentence. A judge says until the city council changes those ordinances her hands are tied.

When anyone under 21 is caught with drugs or alcohol in the city, they usually go to municipal court.

Offenders can be sentenced to anything from community service, to educational classes or time in the department of youth corrections.
But a judge says some offenders who commit more than one crime may not be getting a fair punishment.

Municipal Court Judge Care McInnis tells 11 News that the way that City Ordinance 3852 and 3853 are written nowif a teen has for example, two alcohol offenses on their record and then is found with drugs,
the judge can only consider the drug offense.

She says some repeat offenders are getting lighter sentences and teen counselors say teens in trouble may not be getting the help they need.

Joe Higgins points out the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse to teens. He's worked with Mesa County Partners for 27 years and says when kids under 21 land in court, it's a sign of trouble.

"It's a red flag, a danger sign," Higgins told 11 News on Friday.

And when teens keep abusing booze and other drugs, he says holding them accountable is the key to helping them quit.

"The courts have to have the ability to provide some stronger sentences."

But one city judge says repeat offenders in Grand Junction are not getting strong or even fair sentences under current city regulations.

Judge Care McInnis says because of the way they're written she has limits when it comes to sentencing repeat offenders.

"I need to be able to put those together. It's pretty rare that we need to use it but it's important when we do, those are serious cases and they need to be addressed," McInnis told 11 News on Friday.

McInnis says it's not necessarily more harsh, but more fair.

For example, someone with several DUI's in the county and one offense in the city could get the same penalty as someone with only one offense all together.

"We want these folks that are abusing alcohol and drugs or whatever their vice may be to be able to take care of their own issues so the rest of the community is safe."

And Mesa County Partners wants teens to be safe too and Joe higgins says by having stiffer penalties teens get a wake up call.

"The earlier that we can hold kids accountable and get a clear message to them that this behavior is unacceptable, absolutely those are tools to help us prevent future substance abuse."

The Grand Junction City Council will vote on whether or not to change the ordinances on Monday.

If the changes pass, the judge will have more leeway to consider criminal history and previous drug and alcohol offenses in sentencing.

Stay tuned to 11 News for an update.


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