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State: Ruling may hurt enforcement of underage drinking law

March 2, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The attorney general’s office is asking the Montana Supreme Court to overturn a 2013 decision that authorities say can make it more difficult to enforce a minor-in-possession of alcohol law.

The request came Wednesday during arguments in the case of a former University of Montana student who was convicted of underage drinking, the Missoulian reports .

Marcy Kroschel argues that university police went too far by asking for her name and birthdate when they suspected she had been drinking at a football game in August 2015.

She initially gave officers an incorrect spelling of her name and a wrong birthdate. Officers detained her until she gave them her name, allowing them to determine her age.

Anne Hamilton, an attorney with the Associated Students of the University of Montana’s Legal Services division, argued that Kroschel was taken into custody and asked incriminating questions without being advised of her Miranda rights.

Under state law, officers who suspect someone of being involved in criminal activity may ask for their name, address and an explanation of their actions. If the suspect is driving a vehicle, officers can ask for a driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance.

Hamilton said she wants some clarity on the law after handling numerous minor in possession cases with facts similar to Kroschel’s.

Missoula Municipal Court and a District Court judge in Missoula County denied Kroschel’s motion to have her statements suppressed and her conviction overturned.

“We’ve been repeatedly brushed off by the lower courts who just can’t accept that the law says what it says,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton noted the state Supreme Court ruled in a 2013 case that officers who approached a man in a Dillon bar overstepped their bounds when they asked him for identification to prove his age after he said he was 22.

Dominic Driscoll was taken outside for further questioning and arrested when he gave officers a false name and age. He then gave officers the correct information and was charged.

A judge suppressed Driscoll’s statements, a decision that was upheld by the Montana Supreme Court. The court left it to prosecutors to determine whether they had enough evidence to pursue the case.

Assistant Attorney General Mark Fowler argued Wednesday the Driscoll ruling was wrong and should be overturned. He said officers were trying to verify Kroschel’s identity and noted she initially gave false information.

A name and birthdate are simply “biographical data,” not something that should be considered forced testimony, Fowler argued.

Justice Jeremiah Shea noted the information they were seeking was specifically the information that allowed them to cite her.

But Justice Beth Baker wondered what the officers could have done, saying they can’t be put into a position where people could avoid tickets by simply lying when first stopped.

Hamilton said they should have found another way to continue their investigation rather than detaining Kroschel and demanding answers.

The justices will rule later.

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

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