Yesterday I had an underage drinking case at Judge Knapp’s down in West Chester PA on Union Street. It was a typical West Chester University situation where a girl, who was under 21, was alleged to have been at a party, passed out from drinking too much, and then carted off to the hospital. Bad decision by my client but she is a kid – and kids can make bad decisions. Suffice it to say, when I got to court, the police officer was in no mood to negotiate any type of resolution short of an underage conviction (and suspension of drivers license) along with a conviction for public drunkenness (which was the least of our problems). No offer to have her attend alcohol counseling and /or do community service so she could possibly learn a lesson without the stain of a conviction. In short, the cop wanted blood.
The police officer took the stand to testify against my client. He said he responded to a call of a passed out drunk person. He got there and she was unconscious and covered in vomit. He got an ambulance and took her to the hospital. He testified that he learned from hospital personnel that she was born in 1994, making her under 21. That was it – that was the officer’s proof that she was under 21. The judge felt that this was not good enough proof to establish age for the purposes of convicting her and the underage drinking charge was dismissed.
Listen close underage drinkers. When you go to a hearing for underage drinking the commonwealth must prove you are under 21 years old. Sometimes kids (and some lawyers) can lose sight of this. It is an element of the crime for god’s sake. In this case, the cop did not see my client’s drivers license. My client did not tell her age. Her parents were not contacted. Quite simply, the cop brought no evidence into court, short of what someone from the hospital “told him”, to establish she was under 21. So the judge dismissed the case. No ID – no conviction.
The above is a great example of what a PA underage drinking lawyer can do for you. A good one knows what to look and listen for in a hearing and can often exploit the inadequacies in the police officer’s proof. The above scenario is a great example and it happens more often that one would think. My message is this: anytime a minor is charged with underage drinking or minors in possession, especially in towns like New Britain, Newtown Square, Philadelphia, and Hatboro/Horsham, they should obtain the services of an experienced underaged drinking lawyer. You don’t have to, nor should you, concede a conviction when there is help to be had.