Pennsylvania, along with many other states enforce minor in possession laws in order to deter individuals under the age of 21 from having access to or merely being within proximity of alcoholic beverages. If you are under age, chances are the opportunity to handle alcohol has presented itself several times. Most young people find themselves with a minor in possession charge when law enforcement is attempting to impose other laws or ordinances. For example, many students have acquired this charge while being at a loud college party that police are called to break up. If you are caught with an alcoholic beverage upon their arrival - whether you have been consuming it or not - you could be charged with the under age possession of alcohol.
For the purposes of this article, we will address the (1) laws regarding this criminal charge, (2) the exceptions that the state provides and the (3) penalties associated with this offense in the state of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Minor in Possession of Alcohol Laws
According to Pennsylvania statutes, a minor is legally prohibited from attempting to or commissioning the crime of buying, possessing, or knowingly and intentionally transporting alcoholic beverages. The law also dictates that using false identification or other forms of misrepresentations to obtain alcohol is illegal. Minors also can not be hired by an employer that is licensed to sell alcohol.
Statutory law explicitly defines an alcoholic beverage as any beverage that contains .50% or more alcohol by volume. It's safe to say that any beverage that contains even a small amount of alcohol could lead to a criminal charge for an individual who is under age.
Pennsylvania law provides a number of exceptions that could potentially be applied to a minor in possession case. Due to the nature of these cases, it is imperative that a legal professional is involved to determine whether one or more of these exceptions is applicable in a defendant's circumstances. If the exception is valid, the under age defendant will be immune from prosecution.
Unfortunately, an underage individual's fear of getting arrested or having a criminal record may discourage him or her from calling the authorities in situations when they are needed most. As a result, people in dire need of medical attention are left untreated, leading to debilitating injuries or death. This reality has inspired many states to implement the exception of medical emergencies in relation to minor in possession laws. Pennsylvania law dictates that a minor will not be subjected to criminal charges if he or she did all of the following:
- Reasonably believed that they were the first person to contact emergency services,
- Provided their actual name when making the call, and
- Stayed with the person in need of medical attention under emergency services arrived
Individuals between the ages of 16 and 20 are legally allowed to work in establishments where minors are typically allowed to enter, such as hotels or restaurants. However, they prohibited from entering areas that serve alcohol. However, if a facility makes gross sales of food that are at least 40% of all sales, underage employees may be able to serve food and do work in areas where alcohol is present. If a person is over the age of 18, he or she is allowed to work in environments that distill, brew, bottle, import, distribute or deliver alcohol. They are legally allowed to handle and deliver the beverages, but they are not permitted to dispense it.
Being a performing arts student in high school or college may pay off. This exception allows performing arts students who are minors to perform within an establishment that sell alcoholic beverages. The only stipulations are that a student must have been given permission by their instructor and that they can not be compensated for this exhibition.
Minors are allowed to enter establishments that serve alcohol for either social or school gatherings on two conditions. Firstly, they must be supervised by an adult. Secondly, the licensee - an individual who is licensed to sell alcohol - must provide written notice of this event to the Bureau of Enforcement at least two days of the event. There are also several restrictions as to how many adult supervisors must be present. Each adult present is able to supervise up to 20 minors for social gatherings. In school functions, one adult is able to supervise up to 50 minors. More or less rules may be enforced, depending on the city one resides in.
Penalties for Minor in Possession
There are several penalties associated with minor in possession charges that are pretty serious. It's important to note that this crime is a “summary offense,” which means that a minor does not have to have a trial to determine whether he or she is guilty or innocent. A violation of this law leads to a license suspension and a costly $500 fine. Subsequent offenses lead to an even lengthier suspension of a license a fine of $1,000. All of these run-ins with law enforcement will be available on an individual's criminal record for potential employers, higher education institutions and government aid programs to see.
Experienced Philadelphia DUI Defense Attorney
If you or your child has been charged with a minor in possession offense, you should immediately consult with an attorney. Advice regarding what to say to the police as well as the options you or your child have will be provided by an experienced legal professional. With the help of a skilled attorney, the likelihood of these charges being reduced or completely dismissed is maximized. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento day.