Pitkin County Court resembled a university lecture room late Tuesday morning as nearly 20 slightly nervous and mostly well-dressed young adults pleaded guilty to charges of possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor.
Through their pleas, the 18- to 20-year-olds received a six-month deferred judgment from Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely, meaning they won’t have to serve any jail time or pay any fines for their misdemeanor crimes. All are first-time offenders, according to Deputy District Attorney Jason Slothouber, and will be required to perform eight hours of community service.
Those who get in trouble with the law between now and Aug. 19 — when the six-month judgment period ends — will have to return to the Pitkin County Courthouse to deal with the initial charge all over again, Slothouber said.
“If they do eight hours of community service and stay out of trouble, at the end of the deferred-judgment period the case ends up getting dismissed, so they don’t end up with a criminal record,” he said. “It’s a strong incentive for young people to do the best they can and be responsible and deal with issues in an adult manner before they turn 21.”
Nearly all of the youths who pleaded guilty had been cited by state Department of Revenue agents during the Winter X Games weekend, either at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot or at the foot of Buttermilk Mountain, the X Games event venue, Slothouber said.
“They came from a bunch of different areas,” he said. “The (revenue department’s) Liquor Enforcement Board was talking with people who were tailgating at the intercept lot and seeing if they were underage.
“There were also some tickets written for people who were at the actual X Games entrance, because (authorities) were frisking everybody and checking backpacks. Some of them were cited after trying to sneak alcohol inside and some were actual contact tickets, for people who showed up drunk and might have actually been causing a scene.”
As Fernandez-Ely accepted pleas from each offender, she also spoke with them about the dangers of alcohol use and asked them a few short questions about their backgrounds. Many of the youths said they were attending college in places like Boulder, Fort Collins and Grand Junction. One said he worked in the Wyoming oil patch.
One young female said she was simply driving her friends to the X Games and that she hadn’t been drinking. After further questioning from the judge, she admitted to taking “a few sips of Malibu.”
“What’s Malibu?” Fernandez-Ely asked.
“It’s a sweet rum, judge,” Slothouber replied.
“Rum makes you dumb, right?” the judge told the girl.
With another young woman who pleaded guilty, Fernandez-Ely warned her about getting drunk and finding herself in compromising situations.
“You become so vulnerable when you use alcohol — it’s scary,” the judge said.
One young man had a smirk on his face as he answered Fernandez-Ely’s questions, prompting her to ask him if he was taking his court appearance seriously.
“I’m just a smiley person, your honor,” he replied.
Slothouber said a second wave of about 20 young adults, most of them caught drinking or possessing alcohol at the X Games, will be in court next week to enter guilty pleas.
“One of our biggest priorities in the District Attorney’s Office is to promote safe and responsible behavior,” he said. “Particularly when you’re dealing with young people, that’s a chief concern. And that’s something that factors in a big way into these dispositions.”