As students prepared to leave for Thanksgiving vacation, the halls of Park City High School were swirling with rumors and questions. "Were you there," and "did you get arrested?" were repeated time and again.

In light of the highly publicized "party bust" Nov. 23 that sparked outrage from teens and adults throughout Park City, I took it upon myself to investigate the legal consequences faced by youth caught with alcohol.

Judge Shauna Kerr of The Summit County Justice Court was kind enough to discuss the issue and surprised me with her sympathetic outlook.

While consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited for underage drinkers, Judge Kerr explained it is often those between 18, the legal age of adulthood, and 21, the age at which consumption of alcoholic beverages becomes legal, who potentially face the most severe penalties.

Underage drinking is a Class B misdemeanor, and can carry a sentence of up to six months in jail and as much as $1,194 in fines. Bail is typically set at $525, Kerr said.

Additional penalties can include the suspension of driving privileges. In accordance with state laws, first-time offenders can have their driving privileges revoked for up to a year. Repeat offenders could face two license-less years.

Worse yet, such charges remain on a young adult's permanent record for a minimum of four years, and must often be disclosed to colleges. For teens already faced with the stress of planning for their future, such charges can be devastating.

Judge Kerr advised any students that find themselves in a predicament with the law, "If you get caught once, don't aggravate it because the charges are really going to mess up college applications, driver's licenses and other things that are important to kids that they should be focusing on. I think it can happen to anyone but what I'm seeing is, unfortunately, some of the same kids doing it over and over again. That's what's most frustrating to me."

Captain Justin Martinez of the Summit County Sheriff's Office also spoke with me about the teenager's rights and the differences in the legal treatment of those older and younger than 18.

According to Martinez, "Everyone in the United States of America has the same guaranteed rights."

Whether 16 or 60 and no matter the crime, every American must be treated in accordance with their constitutional rights including protection against self incrimination. Captain Martinez explained that because of this right teens caught at parties do not have to submit to breathalyzer tests, although such tests can clear a teen's name if they haven't been drinking. "You won't get in trouble for what other kids do," added Martinez.

Captain Martinez also cautioned teens 18 and older to remember that they are adults, and that as such they can be taken to jail. Up to their 18th birthday, teens caught drinking will ultimately be released to their parents.

The laws against underage drinking are are intended to encourage students to steer clear from beer and other alcoholic beverages in the hopes of protecting them from the serious developmental consequences stemming from alcohol consumption at a young age.

After talking to Judge Kerr and Capt. Martinez, I still think it is unjust that kids that are 18 face more severe consequences than their 17-year-old classmates. I'm inclined to believe a permanent stain on a youth's record does significantly more harm for their future than it does good, but the laws that allow for such punishments are very real and are something would-be underage drinkers should factor into any party decisions they make.

Fair or not, punishments created with the purpose of protecting teens from their own decisions exist. With the threat of marred transcripts, the loss of transportation, and heavy fees coupled with the inherent risks of alcohol, it seems to me that it might be wise for teenagers to just stay away from the bottle for a few more years.

Sara Tabin is a student at Park City High School and is The Park Record's editorial staff intern.

1. Don't drink if you are under 21. The best way to avoid trouble with the law is to not break the law.

2. If you are caught drinking, cooperate with law enforcement. In the words of Captain Martinez, "we're not the bad guys, we want to work with the parents and students. Cooperate with us and we'll cooperate with you."

3. When in legal trouble, avoid aggravating charges. Don't continue to engage in illegal activity.

4. If you feel you are in an unsafe environment, leave. Call a responsible person for a ride home.

5. If you make the decision to drink, do it responsibly. When all is said and done, everyone in our community wants to keep our youth safe.