More and more, as I represent kids throughout Pennsylvania for the charge of underage drinking, I am finding that police officers are offering young people a plea bargain and it’s this: “We’ll agree to let you plead guilty to a Disorderly Conduct instead of the Underage Drinking you’ve been charged with”. The first response the young person may have is “Hey, that’s great!”. Not so fast. This article examines the benefit, if any, of entering into such an arrangement with the Court. Well…Disorderly Conduct or Underage Drinking? Let’s examine the factors that should go into this decision.
Disorderly Conduct vs. Underage Drinking
- Location – In Pennsylvania, a conviction for Underage Drinking carries with it a suspension of that person’s Pennsylvania drivers license OR the loss of an out of state defendant’s Pennsylvania driving privileges if the young person does not reside in Pennsylvania. When the latter is the case the young person may still drive in their home state (since the Court has no jurisdiction to suspend an out of state drivers license) just not in Pennsylvania. How does this apply? Here’s a scenario: A student from Villanova or St. Joes who lives in a state like New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, or New Jersey but do not own or drive a car at school. Well, a fair option for them may be to plead guilty to the underage drinking charge since there will be no impact on their home drivers license and the suspension of their Pennsylvania driving privileges may mean next to nothing since they do not drive. This keeps their expungement option in place as you will read below.
- Age – The younger a person is when they sustain an underage drinking conviction the greater opportunity that they can get a repeat conviction at some point. This is important because a second and third conviction carries greater license suspension periods than the first one. A second conviction is a one (1) year loss of drivers license or driving privileges and a third is two (2) years. Consequently, a 16 year old who gets an underage drinking may be more apt to choose a Disorderly Conduct option in that they know that, if they accept the Underage Drinking alternative, they will have five more years to go where they have to stay clean of an Underage Drinking or they face the enhanced license suspension penalties.
- Expungement – In PA the two charges of Underage Drinking and Disorderly Conduct are treated differently for the purpose of an expungement. A conviction for Underage Drinking can be expunged as soon as the young person turns 21 years of age whereas a Disorderly Conduct conviction cannot be expunged until five (5) years after conviction as long as there are no further convictions for any crime. Scenario: A 20 year old Pennsylvania resident receives an underage drinking ticket and is offered a Disorderly Conduct resolution. Now, if the young person has a lawyer familiar with the underage laws, the young person will be counseled that, while an underage drinking conviction carries a license loss, they will be eligible for an expungement in a year or so whereas if they select the Disorderly Conduct alternative, they will save their license but also push the expungement process out five years. Yes, it is a tough choice and it very often comes down to a value judgment on behalf on the young person. Input from the young person’s parents may be helpful.
In short, the choice of which charge to accept, if one is forced to make it, hinges on the factors above and a good deal of thought should be put into making it. Underage Drinking or Disorderly Conduct? You make the call.