Furnishing Alcohol to Minors
Many parents are misinformed about the crime of furnishing alcohol to minors. I have represented mothers and fathers of teens that did not know they were breaking the law by allowing their son or daughter to drink alcoholic beverages in the home. I have heard stories such as "I tell my son, 'if you want to drink a beer with your friends just let me know and you can drink at home. I would rather you drink under our supervision than get behind the wheel and kill somebody.'"Contrary to what you think, furnishing alcohol to minors is against the law under any circumstance and the police will arrest you. From my experience, usually one of the teenagers at the party will get too drunk, and their parents will find out and call the cops. This is how the party usually gets busted. From there, the cops will question the parents, and thinking that honesty is the best policy, the parents will admit to serving alcohol at the party. Once the police have taken your confession, you are then at the prosecutor's mercy. Here is the worst part about this crime: some Pennsylvania counties (i.e. - Chester County) will deny first time offenders ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition) program because the crime involved a minor. Some counties have the misguided policy of denying ARD to any applicant that participated in a crime involving a minor. I understand that the spirit of the policy is to protect children, however, this policy has an adverse affect on the lives of good people that thought they were doing the right thing and broke the law. A conviction under this statute will be on your record until at least until you are 70 years old. If you are a professional, this could ruin your career and future employment. Do not let this happen to you. Protect yourself, and if you are a parent do not furnish alcohol to minors under any circumstance. If you are a young adult aged 21 or older, also do not furnish alcohol to minors under any circumstances. You can be convicted of furnishing alcohol to minors if you are 21 and furnish alcohol to a person aged 20. What is even worse, if you are a minor under 21 years of age you can be convicted of furnishing alcohol to minors in Pennsylvania. I have not seen this happen, usually the police cite all minors at the party for underage drinking, although theoretically it is possible.The statute does not distinguish between minors and adults. Anyone that furnishes alcohol to minors can be convicted under this statute. In other words, if you are young adult and you throw a party, I would recommend that you be cautious of the age of your guests.
The definition of furnishing alcohol to minors can be found in the Pennsylvania crimes code at 18 Pa.C.S. §6310.1. The statute is entitled Selling or Furnishing Liquor or Malt or Brewed Beverages to Minors. In order to be convicted of furnishing alcohol to minors, the Commonwealth must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- you intentionally or knowingly;
- sold, furnished or purchased with the intent to furnish;
- any liquor or malt or brewed beverage (this means any alcoholic beverage);
- to a person who is less than 21.
If the Commonwealth meets its burden of proof as to all of the elements of this crime, a misdemeanor of the third degree will be on your record and you will be required to pay a mandatory fine of not less than $1000 for a first offense and $2500 for each subsequent offense. A misdemeanor of the third degree carries a maximum sentence of 1 year incarceration. This means the maximum probationary term for a conviction of furnishing alcohol to minors is 1 year. One year probation and a mandatory $1000 fine would be a typical sentence for this crime.
Defending Furnishing Cases: Don't Let a Furnishing Alcohol to Minors Conviction Ruin Your Career, Push for ARD, Push for a Summary or Take the Case to Trial
If you are reading this you may have a big problem on your hands if police charged you with furnishing alcohol to minors. It is my job to make your life easier and find defenses to the crime. I recommend that you push and ask for reconsideration of ARD if you are in a county like Chester County and denied ARD. If denied, I usually recommend that you take the case to trial. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that YOU KNEW the person you were serving alcohol to was a minor. If they cannot prove this element, you must be acquitted.
You can also defend these cases on the basis that you had a party and the minor took the alcohol without your permission. This is another effective defense that could be a basis for acquittal. I would argue in closing that drinking alcohol in front of minors is not a crime.
There is another limited exception to this crime. This statute does not apply to any religious service or ceremony which may be conducted in a private home or a place of worship where the amount of wine served does not exceed the amount reasonably, customarily and traditionally required for the ceremony.
If you or a loved one has been charged with the crime of furnishing alcohol to minors, contact my office for a free consultation. I am a former Assistant District Attorney and have experience litigating these cases as a prosecutor and defense attorney. In the past, I have been able to have furnishing charges dismissed at the preliminary hearing in exchange for a plea to summary disorderly conduct1. Call our office for a free evaluation of your case.
1 Past results do not guarantee success in future cases.