Chester County Underage Drinking Attorney
The underage drinking statute for Pennsylvania can be found in the Pennsylvania crimes code at 18 Pa.C.S. §6308. The crime is entitled Purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malt or brewed beverages. Underage drinking is a summary offense in Pennsylvania.
Elements of Underage Drinking in Pennsylvania
The following is an easy way to remember the PA Underage drinking law: “it is illegal for a person under the age of 21 in PA to drink alcohol, buy alcohol, attempt to buy alcohol, possess alcohol or knowingly transport alcohol1 .” Alcohol is defined by the phrase “liquor or any malt or brewed beverage.” Pennsylvania defines liquor or malt or brewed beverage in the crimes code at 18 Pa.C.S. §6310.6. The definition of liquor or malt or brewed beverages encompasses pretty much every type of alcoholic drink with an alcohol content in excess of .50%2 of alcohol by volume. Pure ethyl alcohol such as rubbing alcohol is excluded from the definition.
In order for you or your child to be found guilty of Underage drinking, the police officer or prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements: 1) you were under 21 at the time of the offense; and 2) you either drank alcohol, bought alcohol, attempted to buy alcohol, possessed alcohol, or knowingly transported alcohol.
Penalties for Underage Drinking in Pennsylvania
For a first offense underage drinking conviction, the maximum fine is $300. For a second or subsequent offense, the maximum fine is $500. The minimum fine on a first or second offense is $25.The fine does not include court costs. If you plead guilty or are found guilty, you will be ordered to pay court costs in addition to the fine.3 In addition to paying a fine and court costs, you or your child’s license will be suspended upon conviction or a plea of guilty. For a first offense, you or your child’s license will be suspended 90 days. For a second offense the suspension will be one year. For a third or subsequent offense the suspension will be two years. For multiple sentences imposed the license suspension will be ran consecutively. If you or your child have not obtained a license yet, the suspension will be assessed when you acquire a Pennsylvania driver’s license.
Preadjudication Disposition Programs in Underage Drinking Cases
Preadjudication Disposition programs in Pennsylvania underage drinking cases are programs that allow a first time underage drinking offender to avoid a conviction or guilty plea in the case and avoid imposition of a fine. Each county offers different programs with different requirements. The programs typically involve some type of community service and/or alcohol classes. PLEASE BE AWARE THAT YOUR CHILD WILL LOSE THEIR DRIVER’S LICENSE UPON ADMITTANCE INTO A PREADJUDICATION PROGRAM. In my opinion these programs are not in you or your child’s best interest. Do not let a magisterial district judge talk you into accepting one of these programs without speaking to an attorney. Rather than admitting my clients into one of these programs, my office strives to obtain “not guilty” verdict or to work out a deal with the judge for a “dismissal” so that my clients will not lose their operating privileges. Any disposition other than “not guilty”, “nolle prossed” or “dismissed” will result in a loss of license.
Procedure in Pennsylvania Underage Drinking Cases
Once you are cited by the police officer, you will have 10 days to plead “guilty” or “not guilty” to the citation and post the required collateral4 . Instructions are on the back of the citation. My office recommends that you always plead “NOT guilty” and post the required collateral. Once you plead “not guilty” the magisterial district court will mail you a notice and assign you a hearing date. Your case will be heard in front of the magisterial district judge. You can either try work the case out with the police officer or have a trial in front of the judge. If you are found guilty by the magistrate, you have 30 days to file a summary appeal with the clerk of courts for the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you were convicted. A summary appeal is filed by filling out the summary appeal form provided by the clerk of courts and paying the requisite filing fee. Filing fees vary from county to county. It is important to obtain a certified copy of your appeal and forward it to the correspondence unit at Penndot in Harrisburg. Forwarding this document will delay your license suspension for six months.
Once a summary appeal is filed you will be given a court date before a Court of Common Pleas judge. At this hearing you will be entitled to a trial de novo. De novo means that the case starts all over again. You are entitled to a new trial.
If you or your child has been charged with Underage drinking, contact Jason R. Antoine, Pennsylvania Underage Drinking attorney to schedule a free consultation. These cases can be beat. Your child can avoid losing his or her driver’s license.
1This definition of the Underage Drinking statute is paraphrased. For the precise definition, see 75 Pa.C.S.§6308.
2This is one half of a percent. Your typical beer is between 5% and 6% of alcohol by volume.
3To give you an idea of court costs, in my last underage drinking case, my client was cited for a $25 fine and the total amount of the citation including court costs was $109.50.
4The Magisterial District Judge’s Office will require you to pay the fine or a percentage of the fine in advance. If you are found not guilty the judge will refund you the money.