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What are Pennsylvania's underage drinking penalties?

Pennsylvania imposes penalties for underage drinking upon minors and adults who furnish liquor to a minor. Going to college, being over 18-years-old, and drinking with an adult can lead to serious consequences. Therefore, those who are accused of underage drinking may need a competent criminal defense.

Pennsylvania has a minimum 21-year-old legal drinking age. Minors between 18 and 21 years of age are considered underage for alcohol consumption purposes. However, these individuals may be charged as adults, which could force them to face adult criminal penalties for underage drinking.

A driver under 21 with any measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system will be charged for driving under the influence. Their driver's license could be suspended for at least 90 days. Fines start at $500 and rise for additional offenses. A second offense raises the suspension up to one year, and fines increase up to $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Minors who are under 16 and convicted of underage drinking face a license suspension that begins when they turn 16. For a first offense, the minor must wait 90 days after his or her 16th birthday to apply for a learner's permit. For a minor over 16 without a learner's permit, he or she is ineligible to apply for a permit for the duration of this suspension time.

Having a friend over 21 providing liquor also has legal risks. Pennsylvania has a social host law prohibiting an adult from serving alcohol to minors at a private party. If a host serves alcohol to a minor and that minor injures themselves or someone else, then the host may be sued for compensation to the injured person. These individuals also face the criminal offense of furnishing alcohol to a minor, which is punishable by up to one-year's imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Being cited for disorderly conduct and dodging an underage drinking charge at a rowdy party is not necessarily lucky. A disorderly conduct charge does not have the possibility of driver's license suspension, which may be especially important for a minor who needs to drive to school or their job. The downside is that a minor convicted of underage drinking can ask a court to expunge their record when they reach 21. However, five years must elapse before a court considers expungement of a disorderly conduct criminal conviction.

A student charged with these offenses can face serious long-term consequences. They should therefore seek prompt legal assistance to help assure that their rights are protected.

Source: Allegheny County Bar Association, "Underage drinking," accessed Nov. 24, 2017

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