Pennsylvania Alcohol Crimes
There are several different alcohol-related laws in Pennsylvania. The alcohol crime that is prosecuted the most is Driving Under the Influence (DUI) although increasingly, DUIs involve substances other than alcohol (such as illegal drugs or prescription medication). Since alcohol consumption is an element in so many crimes, it is useful to understand the various alcohol laws.
DUI — Driving Under the Influence
Driving Under the Influence represents a large percentage of the total crimes charged in Pennsylvania. A major reason for this is that DUIs are a crime that virtually anyone can commit. The most law-abiding citizens in our society can find themselves at a holiday party, sporting event or even just out to dinner and consume a couple of alcoholic drinks. With the blood-alcohol limit at only 0.80 percent, such persons can be pulled over and charged with DUI.
DUIs are prosecuted aggressively in Montgomery County, PA and throughout the Commonwealth. Indeed, with existing mandatory sentences, DUI penalties are often far more severe than penalties for other, seemingly more-serious crimes.
Underage Drinking is also aggressively pursued in Montgomery County and surrounding counties outside of Philadelphia. This may be due to the large number of colleges in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks Counties — not to mention the hundreds of high schools — which necessarily results in numerous parties and social events where alcohol is consumed.
Underage drinking is actually punished under a statute that is entitled “Purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malt or brewed beverages”. As the name implies, a person is guilty of “Underage Drinking” not only by consuming alcohol but also by purchasing, possessing or transporting it. Accordingly, even a responsible young person acting as a “designated driver” can find him or herself charged with “underage drinking.”
A major consequence of Underage Drinking is the resulting driver’s license suspension. A first offense results in a 3-month license suspension; a second offense results in a one-year license suspension.
Anyone charged with Underage Drinking should hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to help with the case. Many local courts have creative dispositions — almost like a mini ARD Program — that can result in the charges being dismissed. For most people, it is far more desirable to perform community service or attend alcohol awareness classes than to suffer the consequences of an Underage Drinking conviction. And, significantly, if the charges are dismissed as part of a diversionary program, they can then be expunged from your criminal record.
Fake IDs — Misrepresentation of Age
Gone are the days of a bartender simply taking a “fake ID” from a young person and sending him on his way. These days, people displaying fake IDs face criminal prosecution and bars are encouraged to report offenders to the police.
Any person under 21 years of age who displays a fake ID to obtain alcohol may be charged and convicted of a summary offense. A second or subsequent offense is a misdemeanor of the third degree.
These laws are not solely aimed at prosecuting minors. Any adult that misrepresents a minor’s age to allow him or her to obtain alcohol (such as telling a waiter that his son or daughter is 21) commits a misdemeanor of the third degree.
If you are charged with such an offense, in Montgomery County PA and elsewhere, you should consult an attorney to learn of your rights and options. Many people who simply “pay the fine” and thereby accept a criminal conviction ultimately end up regretting this decision. An attorney advise you whether you can emerge from the situation without a criminal record.
Public Drunkenness is charged in Pennsylvania as a summary offense — the lowest level crime in the Commonwealth. A person may be charged with Public Drunkenness if he appears in a public place “manifestly under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance” such that he “may endanger himself or or other persons or property, or annoy persons in his vicinity.”
Typically a person charged with Public Drunkenness pays a fine plus court costs (although by law a person may receive up to 90 days probation or imprisonment). While this may seem like a relatively minor charge, it counts as a criminal charge and anyone who simply “pays the fine” enters a legal guilty plea. This means that the conviction will exist on various databases and may appear on a person’s criminal record.
It is important to hire an attorney if you are charged with Public Drunkenness or any summary offense. In this day and age of exhaustive background checks, even minor convictions can adversely affect a person’s career and professional objectives. Sometimes it may be possible to negotiate a creative result so that a person “pays his debt to society” with community service or some sort of contribution as opposed to ending up with a criminal conviction.
Expungement of Alcohol Crimes
Many alcohol related crimes may be expunged under certain circumstances.
• DUI charges: People charged with a first-offense DUI can apply for admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program (ARD Program). Successful completion of the ARD Program results in the charges being dismissed after which they can be expunged from your record.
• Underage Drinking: A person 21 years of age or older who was convicted of Underage Drinking may successfully petition to have his conviction expunged.
• Summary Offenses: Under certain circumstances, summary convictions, such as Misrepresentation of Age and Public Drunkenness may be expunged if a person has been free of arrest or prosecution for five years following the conviction.
It is important to understand that records are not expunged unless the person files a petition in the proper court requesting that a judge sign an Order of Expungement. A certified copy of this Order of Expungement must then be served on the various agencies that have a record of the incident. You should consult with an Expungement Attorney if you believe you have any criminal record that may be expunged.
Contact a Norristown Area Criminal Defense Lawyer
When facing charges relating to a DUI, alcohol possession or Underage Drinking, it is best to seek the assistance of an experienced Montgomery County criminal defense attorney. Call me, Norristown Lawyer Henry S. Hilles for a free consultation. I routinely defend those accused of DUI and other drug and alcohol related crimes throughout Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Dial (610) 270-8800 for a free consultation.