An Underage Drinking citation is a seemingly easy way to seriously complicate your life. Not all kids drink. Many, however, do. The law sort of recognizes this. If you have been cited for Underage Drinking, for the first time, DO NOT PLEAD GUILTY! You can plead not guilty, whether or not this is your first offense, but DO NOT PLEAD GUILTY IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST OFFENSE!
6308 Purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malt 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 (relating to definitions). 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 (relating to restriction of operating privileges), a person convicted of violating subsection (a) may be sentenced to pay a fine of not more than $500 for the first violation and not more than $1,000 for the second and each subsequent violation.
(c) Preadjudication disposition.— (1) When a person is charged with violating subsection (a), the magisterial district judge may admit the offender to the adjudication alternative as authorized in 42 Pa.C.S. § 1520 (relating to adjudication alternative program) or any other preadjudication disposition if the offender has not previously received a preadjudication disposition for violating subsection (a).
(2) The use of a preadjudication disposition shall be considered a first or subsequent offense, whichever is applicable, for the purpose of further adjudication under this section or under section 6310.4.
(d) Notification.– The police department making an arrest for a suspected violation of subsection (a) shall so notify the parents or guardian of the minor charged.
(e) Exception for compliance checks.— (1) An individual who is under 21 years of age may purchase, attempt to purchase, possess or transport liquor or malt or brewed beverages if all of the following apply:
(i) The individual is at least 18 years of age.
(ii) The individual is an officer, employee or intern of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement of the Pennsylvania State Police.
(iii) The individual has completed training specified by the bureau.
(iv) The individual is acting within the scope of prescribed duties.
(v) The individual is acting under the direct control or supervision of a bureau officer who is an adult.
(2) Under no circumstances may individuals under 21 years of age consume liquor or malt or brewed beverages.
(3) The Pennsylvania State Police shall promulgate regulations prescribing the manner in which compliance checks are to be performed. Compliance checks under this subsection shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the regulations. Regulations shall require, at a minimum, all of the following:
(i) Prior to participation in the compliance check, the officer, employee or intern shall undergo training approved by the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.
(ii) A person licensed to sell liquor or malt or brewed beverages that is found to be in compliance with this section during a compliance check shall be notified in writing of the compliance check and the determination of compliance.
(iii) A person licensed to sell liquor or malt or brewed beverages that is found to be noncompliant with this section during a compliance check shall be immediately verbally advised by the supervising bureau officer and shall be notified in writing of the failure to comply within ten working days of the date of the compliance check.
(f) Exception for person seeking medical attention for another. – A person shall be immune from prosecution for consumption or possession under subsection (a) if he can establish the following:
(1) The only way law enforcement officers became aware of the person’s violation of subsection (a) is because the person placed a 911 call, or a call to campus safety, police or emergency services, in good faith, based on a reasonable belief and reported that another person was in need of immediate medical attention to prevent death or serious injury.
(2) The person reasonably believed he was the first person to make a 911 call or a call to campus safety, police or emergency services, and report that a person needed immediate medical attention to prevent death or serious injury.
(3) The person provided his own name to the 911 operator or equivalent campus safety, police or emergency officer.
(4) The person remained with the person needing medical assistance until emergency health care providers arrived and the need for his presence had ended.
Translated into English, this statute can be broken down into a few basic parts:
Part 1: If you are under 21 and you are drinking, buying, or moving alcohol, you are in violation of this statute. This gets problematic for an individual at a school/college party or any large social gathering where there is widespread drinking. Under the doctrine of “constructive possession,” you can be found to be in possession of such alcoholic beverages simply by your presence at the gathering and proximity to the alcohol.
Part 2: Conviction under this statute carries a number of penalties. There is a twofold “direct” penalty. First, upon conviction of this charge, PennDOT will suspend your driver’s license. For a first violation, PennDOT will suspend your driving privileges for 90 days. For a second and subsequent violation, PennDOT will suspend your driving privileges for one year. This violation also carries a fine. For a first violation, there is a $500 fine. For a second and subsequent violation, there is a $1,000 fine. There are also a host of “in-direct” consequences of a conviction of this statute including but not limited to increased difficulty getting into school (college, graduate school, medical school, law school, etc.), increased difficulty getting or retaining a job, and increased insurance rates.
Part 3: The above statute contains two highly specific exceptions. The first exception only applies to someone working at the Pennsylvania State Police. The second exception is more likely to offer you protection. You will be immune from prosecution if the only way police find out about your violation is because you called the police (or other law enforcement) to seek aid for another; you reasonably believed you were the first person to call on this person’s behalf; you gave your name to the dispatcher; and you waited for the police to arrive. This exception was crafted to encourage individuals at a party to seek aid for another who has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol to the point of subjecting themselves to potential alcohol poisoning by giving them a limited immunity of sorts from prosecution for this statute.