Monday, March 31, 2008

Wyoming's overage drinking problem?

Academic studies can lead to all kinds of weird stuff. Take, for example, the following.

In 1992, the Wyoming Supreme Court heard a case regarding age discrimination.

Wyoming legislators had crafted a unique measure to curb underage drinking. (yes, it's bad here.) Those under the age of 19 convicted of "any offense regarding the possession, delivery, manufacture or use of alcohol" would temporarily lose driving privileges (90 days). 19 and 20 year old drinking convicts held onto their licenses.*

Predictably, some MIP-club members appealed the decision, saying it was "cruel and unusual punishment," and a violation of Wyoming's equal protection clause.** Ultimately, the appellants won their case and the statute was overturned.

However, that's not the most interesting part of the story.

In one of the first days of one of my constitutional law classes, my professor warned us that court cases are just plain difficult to read. He said decisions are often written by judges who are super-intelligent or by judges trying to sound super-intelligent.

With that in mind, read the following excerpt from the case, Johnson v. State Hearing Examiner's Office:

These appeals chronicle the current national examination of the use of alcoholic beverages by the younger members of our society as a constituent factor within this country's crisis of misuse of intoxicants by persons above a minimal level of perhaps age twelve and continuing thereafter through all age groups, but not necessarily notable for those past the age of 100.
Is it just me, or is the final bit perhaps the most baffling and unnecessary clause since 2006?

Seriously, what merited the mention of centenarians and super-centenarians? Are they ever a particularly notable "constituent factor"? There's only around 55,000 of them in the the U.S.

Maybe there are circumstances I don't know about. Perhaps there is research to suggest alcoholism just ends at age 100.

I could be wrong here, but from this vantage point, it seems as if the judge could have crafted a better sentence.

*Just so we're clear: if it's a DUI, licenses were (and are) in jeopardy regardless of age. These kids were subject to license-stripping if abusing alcohol anywhere: on foot, scooters, horses, Segways, or even while unconscious on a stationary couch.
**"All laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation." -Wyoming Constitution, article 1, section 34
Final note: In a dissenting opinion, a different Justice wrote: "Wyo. Stat. § 31-7-126 and Wyo. Stat. § 31-7-128(f) were designed to keep certain young drivers who keep company with John Barleycorn off the highway and, thus, reduce fatalities and injuries." John Barleycorn? Honestly, I had never heard that one before. You can rest assured I'll be working it into a conversation sometime soon.


Carol said...

Maybe it is harder to "bend an elbow" with John Barleycorn when you hit the century mark.
(nice Clause reference)

Anonymous said...

Carol: Believe it or not, I had to look up "bend an elbow" as well. Now my conversation will never be in want of sweet alcohol euphemisms!