“Underage Drinking” as it is called in Pennsylvania does not just prohibit kids under 21 from drinking alcohol because it also encompasses other activities they can’t do. Here is a primer on the Underage Drinking law itself – some basics young people and parents need to know as well as some pointers to help those who have gotten an underage drinking ticket and need to navigate the process.
First stop – the obvious. What is the law?
The Underage Drinking statute is found at 18 Pa.C.S.A. Sec 6308 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Statutes – and here it is (with portions that I have highlighted for extra emphasis).
Sec. 6308. Purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malted or brewed beverages
(a) Offense defined – A person commits a summary offense if he, being less than 21 years of age, attempts to purchase, purchases, consumes, possesses or knowingly and intentionally transports any liquor or malt or brewed beverages, as defined in section 6310.6…For the purposes of this section, it shall not be a defense that the liquor or malt or brewed beverage was consumed in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the citation for underage drinking was issued.
(b) Penalty. – In addition to the penalty imposed pursuant to section 6310.4 (relation to restriction on operating privileges) a person convicted of subsection (a) may be sentenced to pay a fine of not more that $500 for the second and each subsequent violation.
(c) Preadjudication disposition –
(1) When a person is charged with violating subsection (a), the magisterial district justice may admit the offender to the adjudication alternative as authorized in 42 Pa.C.S.A. Sec 1520 (relating to adjudication alternative adjudication program) or any other pre-adjudication disposition if the offender has not received a pre-adjudication disposition for violating subsection (a).
(2) The use of a pre-adjudication disposition shall be considered a first or subsequent offense, whichever is applicable, for the purpose of further adjudication under this this section or or under section 6310.4.
Alright, there is the law as written in the books, and here is how to decipher it:
Q: What is “illegal” under the law?
A: If you are under 21 you can’t drink alcohol, buy it, or carry it around in a car.
Q: Where is my case heard?
A: It is heard in the Magisterial District Court of the jurisdiction that you got the ticket in.
Q: How much can I get fined if found guilty?
A: You can be fined up to $500 (plus court costs) for a first offense and up to $1000 (plus court costs) for any of offense thereafter.
Q: What will happen to my drivers license or my privilege to drive in Pennsylvania?
A: First conviction: 90 days. Second conviction: 1 years. Third and subsequent offenses: 2 years.
Q: What is this “preadjudication program”?
A: OK. This is a little tricky. The Commonwealth has their own brand of pre-adjudication at 42 Pa.C.S.A Sec. 1520 that allows for a young person to do some sort of community service and/or alcohol counseling in exchange for a dismissal of the charges. BUT! While this form of adjudication is a dismissal of the criminal charge it still gets reported to PennDot and your license will be suspended. Now, there is another type of pre-adjudication that is available on a court by court basis. What this means is that each court can really make up their own terms for their own pre-adjudication programs. While these programs still involve community service and/or alcohol counseling it does not get reported to PennDot and therefore does not cause a license loss. This is the one a young person wants.
Q: What if I am charged with underage drinking and I can’t get the pre-adjudication program?
A: You can plead guilty or fight the ticket. The best defenses to an underage ticket are:
Q: Whats all this about a “breathalyzer”?
A: This is not the same breathalyzer that is given to alleged drink drivers back at the station. The one used for underage drinking is called a “portable breath test” or “PBT”. If the young person has been drinking and the police have them take the PBT then if it comes up positive for alcohol it can form the basis for a conviction.
Q: Can I get my case my conviction expunged?
A: A person convicted of underage drinking can make application for an expungement as soon as they turn 21.
In addition to the counties of Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Philadelphia, I also represent clients in the cities of Radnor Twp, Wayne, West Chester, Tredyffrin Twp, Bala Cynwyd, Narberth, Ardmore, Villanova, St. Josephs, and Newtown Square.