Getting a Charge for Buying Tobacco as a Minor in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products. Legislation raising the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21 went into effect on July 1, 2020, making Pennsylvania the 19th state in the U.S. to increase the minimum age. The new law does exempt members of the military or honorably discharged veterans who are at least 18.
The legislature intended to ensure that teens ages 15 to 17 will no longer be close enough to the legal age to pass for adults easily and clandestinely buy cigarettes and electronic cigarettes or vapes. As a result, it's likely that, in the future, more people will have criminal records for buying tobacco as a minor, which can have long-term impacts on your future career, education, and ability to obtain financial aid or loans.
Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, you can have some minor offenses like buying tobacco as a minor expunged. An expungement is a court order directing the destruction of administrative and criminal records related to an arrest, charge, or conviction.
What Can I Expunge in Pennsylvania?
You can typically expunge summary or minor offenses in Pennsylvania if you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years. A summary offense is less serious than a misdemeanor or felony, more on par with a serious ordinance violation or traffic citation. It typically involves a maximum sentence of up to 90 days in jail and $1,500 in fines.
You can also expunge charges where you never received a conviction, including not guilty findings, dismissed or dropped charges, and nolle prosse dispositions. Generally, you can't expunge more serious convictions for misdemeanors and felonies, except in very limited situations. You may, however, be eligible to have misdemeanor charges sealed.
Buying Tobacco as a Minor in Pennsylvania
You may be eligible to have a conviction for buying tobacco as a minor expunged in Pennsylvania because it is typically a summary offense.
Purchase.--A minor is guilty of a summary offense if the minor:
(1) purchases or attempts to purchase a tobacco product; or
(2) knowingly falsely represents himself to be at least 21 years of age or if the minor is a member of the active or reserve components of any branch or unit of the armed forces of the United States or a veteran who received an honorable discharge from any branch or unit of the active or reserve components of the armed forces of the United States, at least 18 years of age to a person for the purpose of purchasing or receiving a tobacco product.
18 Pa. Code § 6315(a.1) (2020). The police will notify the parents or guardian of the minor:
Upon issuing or filing a citation charging a violation of subsection (a.1), the affiant shall notify the parent or guardian of the minor charged.
Id. at § 6315(c)(1). However, an offense under this statute won't be included in a criminal record in most cases:
(1) An offense under subsection (a.1) shall not be a criminal offense of record, shall not be reportable as a criminal act and shall not be placed on the criminal record of the offender. The failure of a minor to comply with a sentence under subsection (b)(3) shall not constitute a delinquent act under 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to juvenile matters).
(2) A record of participation in an adjudication alternative program under subsection (e) shall be maintained for purposes of determining subsequent eligibility for such a program.
Id. at § 6315(d)(1, 2).
The statute also allows a court to place someone who violates this statute in a diversionary, pre-adjudication disposition program. If this is the first offense for a minor, a magisterial district judge can place an offender in a public service or charitable agency program in lieu of entering a disposition in the case. If the minor completes the community service or probationary program, the judge can dismiss the charges.
Can I Expunge a Charge for Buying Tobacco as a Minor?
You may be able to expunge a charge for buying tobacco as a minor because it is a summary offense. You must be free from arrest or prosecution for five years before becoming eligible for expungement.
Typically, you can expunge a criminal charge in Pennsylvania if:
- Your conviction was a summary offense, and you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years,
- A court didn't convict you of the charge. The non-convictions eligible for expungement includes not guilty verdicts, charges dropped by the prosecutor, charges dismissed by a court, and nolle prosse dispositions.
- You went through a diversionary program like the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or another alternative adjudication program where you completed community service or probation and weren't convicted.
The statute prohibiting minors from buying tobacco also allows a judge to place minors violating the statute into a diversionary program involving community service or work with a charitable program. If completed, the judge will then dismiss the charges. The charges are then eligible for expungement.
Juvenile Buying Tobacco Charges
With the recent increase in the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 in Pennsylvania, many older teens got caught off guard. The good news is that you may be able to expunge a conviction for buying tobacco as a minor if you were under 18 at the time of your conviction or if you went through a diversionary program without a conviction.
Hire a Pennsylvania Attorney Experienced in Expunctions
If you have a conviction for buying tobacco while underage that you need to have expunged, you need to consult with an attorney experienced in expungements for both adults and juveniles. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is an experienced criminal defense attorney with a great deal of experience helping clients expunge both adult and juveniles' criminal records. He's been fighting for the rights of people in Pennsylvania for his entire career. Attorney Lento can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686.