Underage drinking is the first time many young people have a run-in with the law. Many people do not treat underage drinking as a big deal, but it could still result in a criminal record and mean the loss of your driver's license. Underage drinking can also negatively impact your future educational opportunities. Before pleading guilty to any criminal charges, make sure you understand your rights.
Age to Drink in Pennsylvania
Individuals become legal adults at the age of 18. However, even “adults” are not able to purchase, possess, or even consume alcohol, until they turn 21. Technically, Pennsylvania doesn't even have exceptions even if a parent lets a 20-year-old have a beer.
Most restaurants and bars do not serve individuals alcohol without a valid ID. Liquor stores and beer stores in Pennsylvania are also strict about checking customers ages. Some under-21 individuals may buy a fake ID or use an older sibling's driver's license to buy alcohol. However, when caught using a fake ID, the individual will face much more serious charges than a simple underage drinking charge.
Even if you are not actually consuming alcohol, you may still be charged if you are in possession of alcohol. Many young people who attend college parties find themselves charged with underage drinking even if they were sober. Police often cite any underage person with underage drinking simply because they are around alcohol.
Underage Drinking Penalties
Under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, any person under the age of 21 commits a summary offense if he or she attempts to purchase, purchases, possesses, consumes, or transports any alcoholic beverage. The penalties include a fine of up to $500 for a first violation, and up to $1,000 for a second violation.
Alcoholic beverages include liquor, wine, beer, or any similarly fermented malt beverage containing 0.5 percent or more of alcohol by volume. Even so-called, “non-alcoholic” beers are actually “low alcohol” beers and may have enough alcohol to get individuals charged with underage drinking.
University or college students who are caught drinking while underage may face additional penalties, including code of conduct violations, parental notification, mandatory alcohol education programs, and disciplinary action, up to and including loss of scholarships or expulsion.
Reporting Emergencies Exception
There is a general exception to charges of underage drinking when an under-21 individual is seeking medical attention for themselves or someone else. For example, if two 18-year old friends are drinking alcohol and one of them needs medical attention, the friend who calls 9-1-1 will generally be immune from prosecution.
Driver's License Penalties
Underage drinking can also result in mandatory license suspension. A first-time offense for underage drinking may lead to a 90-day license suspension. A second offense can mean losing your license for a full year.
Underage Drinking and Driving
Underage drinking and driving leads to much more serious penalties. If a driver is under 21 and arrested for drunk driving, they can face jail time, fines, and loss of their driver's license. Depending on the individual's criminal history and alcohol level, a DUI could also result in mandatory DUI school and an ignition interlock device (IID).
Getting in trouble for underage drinking can negatively affect your college opportunities and leave you with an unnecessary mark on your criminal record. Before you plead guilty to an underage drinking charge make sure you understand your options and your rights. Criminal defense attorney David J. Cohen is devoted to representing the people of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and surrounding areas. Contact the David J. Cohen Law Firm, LLC today for a consultation.