Underage drinkers will not have to fear arrest after June 1 if they call police to help a friend who needs medical attention.
Illinois’ Medical Amnesty Law provides freedom from prosecution for underage drinking when a person under 21 calls for medical assistance arising from the consumption of alcohol. The law takes effect June 1.
Authored by state Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood), the statute says a “law enforcement officer may not charge or otherwise take a person into custody” if the officer believes the “person requested medical assistance for an individual who reasonably appeared to be in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption,” according to the Illinois General Assembly website.
Drury said the law is similar to one passed a few years ago that provided the same immunity to a person reporting a heroin overdose. He said the purpose of both laws is to ensure safety through medical attention and possibly save a life.
“In no way does this law condone underage drinking,” Drury said. “If it should happen no child should have to pay the ultimate price. It removes the fear of being arrested if you have been drinking (with a friend) and that friend needs medical assistance.”
The success of the heroin exemption convinced Lake Forest Deputy Police Chief Karl Walldorf that Drury’s bill would offer similar safety measures for underage drinkers.
“If you see someone who needs medical attention we want you to put a call in to us,” Walldorf said. “Just because they are a juvenile (who has been drinking) it won’t stop them now.”
Walldorf said that since the immunity bill for heroin was passed he knows of at least one life in Lake Forest that has been saved as a result.
Highland Park Police Chief Paul Shafer said the new law is part of what he considers his department’s primary purpose of “keeping people safe.”
“We want to help someone who is in distress,” Shafer said.
Had the amnesty bill been in effect March 6, it could have lessened the impact of an underage drinking occurrence that resulted in 18 juvenile arrests for consumption or possession of alcohol, according to Highland Park Deputy Police Chief Tim Wilinski.
Wilinski said police got a call March 6 from a parent saying their child was in need of medical assistance. He said an ambulance was sent.
“The person who called the police pointed to a house saying more people inside needed medical assistance,” Wilinski said. “An additional ambulance was summoned.”
Had the law been in effect March 6, Wilinski said the circumstances may have been different.
“If someone saw things were spinning out of control before the parent called they may have picked up the phone,” Wilinski said.
A story from a constituent prompted Drury to author the legislation. He said he learned an underage person was ill from too much alcohol consumption and rather than help, the friends ran away out of fear from prosecution. He said the person survived.
Drury said the law only provides immunity from arrest for underage drinking and not for other crimes such as driving under the influence of alcohol. He said only people directly involved summoning help are exempt from prosecution.
The legislation was passed the state Senate May 26, 2015, 55-0, got a 74-34 nod in the state House June 16 and was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner August 24, according to the legislature’s website. Drury said the delay until June 1, 2016, is a function of state law.