Underage Drinkers Can Face Severe Penalties in Pennsylvania

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Special to PennLive By Judge Jessica Brewbaker | August 20, 2013
As summer wanes and the weather cools, schools and colleges being to resume. Along with the return of college students comes an increase in parties and social gatherings. Unfortunately, underage drinking is a common occurrence at this time, and one with significant consequences.
Under Pennsylvania law, a person under the age of 21 is guilty of a summary offense if he or she buys, attempts to buy, consumes, possesses or knowingly and intentionally transports an alcoholic beverage. A minor is guilty of this offense if there’s any consumption of alcohol whatsoever – a breath or blood test is not required to prove guilt.
A minor can also be guilty of a summary offense if he or she is carrying a false ID card that identifies the person as being 21 or older, or for using someone else’s identification card to try to buy alcohol. A second offense of this section is a misdemeanor of the third degree.
In addition to substantial fines for the above two violations, both result in the loss of driving privileges. A first offense will result in a suspension of the person’s license for 90 days, a second offense will suspend the license for 1 year, and a third offense will suspend the license for 2 years. If a person does not yet have a driver’s license, the suspension will start when he or she applies for a license or learner’s permit.
While having significant immediate penalties, a conviction for these violations can also have long-lasting effects. For example, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a person with a record of a conviction for one of the above offenses to get a teaching job in Pennsylvania. Certain other careers and schools of higher education have similar prohibitions.
It is also important to note that a person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree for selling or providing alcohol to a person who is under the age of 21. While some parents believe that there is a familial exception to this section, the law does not recognize any exception except for the use of wine in a religious service. The fine for a violation of this section starts at a mandatory minimum of $1,000.
Incidentally, while a lesser violation, a person is still guilty of a summary offense for selling or providing a “nonalcoholic beverage” to a person under the age of 21. A “nonalcoholic beverage” is “any beverage intended to be marketed or sold as nonalcoholic beer, wine or liquor” that has some alcohol content but does not contain more than 0.5% alcohol by volume.
As a Magisterial District Judge, I am strictly prohibited from giving my opinions on cases, and will not be doing so in this column. However, if you want to know what a law is, or what the possible penalties for it may be, please do not hesitate to ask! Got a Question? Ask the Judge!


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