In Pennsylvania, it can be easy to inadvertently break the law providing or selling alcohol to minors. Whether you were a store clerk who sold beer to a 20-year-old who looked 30 or a 21-year-old who had a party with some college friends, not realizing that some guests were under 21, it happens. But did you know that it's also illegal to provide a minor with nonalcoholic beverages marketed as nonalcoholic? That's because nonalcoholic beers sold in the U.S. can contain up to 0.5% of alcohol by volume. Many manufacturers keep a small ABV in their alcohol-free beverages because they can become flat if they remove all alcohol. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania law still prohibits anyone from providing or selling these “nonalcoholic” beverages to those under 21.
Unfortunately, an arrest record in Pennsylvania can have unintended long-term consequences. Beyond a fine, jail, or probation, a criminal record can affect your educational and professional prospects. It can also make it difficult to obtain loans, financial aid, rent an apartment, or even buy a home. Fortunately, Pennsylvania recognizes that people make mistakes and created a process to remove criminal records through expungement. An expungement is an order from a judge to remove or destroy administrative or criminal records related to a criminal arrest, charge, or conviction in Pennsylvania.
What Can You Expunge in Pennsylvania?
You can sometimes expunge a conviction for a summary offense in Pennsylvania, but you can't expunge a conviction for a misdemeanor or a felony.
1. Summary Offense Conviction
A summary offense is a minor crime, less serious than a misdemeanor or felony. In Pennsylvania, the maximum penalty for a summary offense is 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,500. Usually, however, a summary offense conviction results in a fine. You can expunge a summary offense if you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years or more.
In Pennsylvania, you can also expunge a crime for which you were charged but never convicted. Eligible non-convictions include dismissed charges, dropped charges, not guilty verdicts, and nolle prose dispositions.
While you can't expunge a misdemeanor or felony conviction in Pennsylvania, you may be able to seal the records in some cases.
Selling or Furnishing Nonalcoholic Beverages
In Pennsylvania, “selling or furnishing nonalcoholic beverages to persons under 21 years of age” is a summary offense. Someone commits the crime if they “intentionally and knowingly sell[…] or furnish[…] nonalcoholic beverages to any person under 21 years of age.” 18 Pa. Stat. § 6310.7 (1994).
A “nonalcohol beverage” under the statute means “any beverage intended to be marketed or sold as nonalcoholic beer, wine or liquor having some alcohol content but does not contain more than 0.5% alcohol by volume.” Id. Nonalcoholic beverages that fall under this statute can include products marketed as “nonalcoholic beer,” “nonalcoholic wine,” “nonalcoholic liquor,” and alcohol-free beverages.
Can I Expunge a Charge for Selling or Furnishing Nonalcoholic Beverages to a Minor?
In Pennsylvania, you can expunge a selling or furnishing nonalcoholic beverages to a minor if:
- You've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years or more, and you have only a conviction for a summary offense,
- You were charged but never convicted of selling or furnishing nonalcoholic beverages to a minor. This eligibility means you can expunge not guilty verdicts, charges the prosecutor withdrew or dropped, and nolle prose dispositions, or
- You went through a diversionary program where you completed probation without conviction.
Eligible diversionary programs in Pennsylvania typically involve the court placing you in an alternative adjudication program before a guilty plea or conviction. Under these programs, the court will usually require you to complete a certain amount of probation, community service, or even alcohol awareness programs. If you complete the program, the court will then dismiss the charges, and then you may be eligible to expunge the records relating to the arrest and charge.
Sealing a Charge for Selling or Furnishing Nonalcoholic Beverages to a Minor
Typically, selling nonalcoholic beverages to a minor is a summary offense that should be eligible for expungement. If, however, you have additional related misdemeanor charges, like selling alcohol to a minor, you may be able to have the records sealed. You can seal records if you have:
- A second or third-degree misdemeanor conviction,
- Not been arrested in the last ten years,
- Never been convicted of a felony, a first-degree misdemeanor, or a second-degree simple assault,
- Fewer than four misdemeanor convictions, and
- Paid all your fines and court costs.
Under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Act of 2018, the state can now automatically seal some records, including:
- Criminal arrests where you were never convicted,
- Charges if the court found you not guilty,
- Nonviolent criminal convictions older than ten years, and
- Misdemeanor offenses involving fewer than two years in prison.
Sealing doesn't destroy or remove records like an expungement does. However, routine background checks, including most landlord and employer checks, won't reveal these criminal records. You also won't be legally required to disclose them. However, agencies that must consider criminal background under federal law, like law enforcement agencies and those that use FBI background checks, will still see sealed criminal records.
Hire a Pennsylvania Attorney Experienced in Expungements
The offense is a good defense. To avoid having to expunge a criminal conviction, your best chance is to aggressively defend yourself against the original criminal charge, avoiding a record. If you're facing a charge for providing nonalcoholic beverages to a minor, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney to help. But if you already have a criminal conviction, your best bet to protect your future may be to expunge or seal your records. You need the advice of a Pennsylvania expungement attorney with a background in criminal defense.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a skilled Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney with a great deal of experience helping clients expunge and seal criminal records. He can help. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686.