Alcohol Crimes (Pennsylvania)

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 0.08 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

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 / Intoxication

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.

Public intoxication laws will often vary greatly depending on the state, but Pennsylvania does not consider public intoxication to be a crime, but rather a social nuisance. However, public intoxication situations vary from person to person, and other charges may be involved depending on the incident at hand. For instance, if a person is publicly intoxicated and gets into a fight, they may face assault charges, or if a person is publicly intoxicated and decides to drive, they will often risk being charged with a DUI. When a person is found to be publicly intoxicated in Montgomery County, a police officer may escort them home, to a hospital, or place them into custody temporarily until they are back in a sober state in order to avoid problems or harm to themselves.

Because public intoxication is not a crime in Pennsylvania, it does not come with criminal penalties. If a person is placed into custody temporarily after being found publicly intoxicated, it is not considered an arrest, and the person will be released without consequences either when they sober up or after 12 hours, whichever time length is deemed shorter.

Open Container Laws

Open container laws, in terms of being inside of a vehicle, are in place to stop passengers from drinking alcohol while in a vehicle. These laws not only include passengers in a car holding bottles or cans of alcohol, but also open containers being hidden or stored in compartments within a car such as a glove box or center console. While open container laws are in place in Pennsylvania not all states have decided to adopt this law. However, these states which have chosen not to adopt the law are also ineligible for some federal state highway funds. If a state has no open container laws, a person should not assume that each region within the state will not impose penalties for open containers, as certain cities and counties may create their own open container laws within a state that has none in place.

In terms of open container laws, these will generally only enforced on public roads or parking areas, and in some states a person may not be breaking the law if they hold an open container in their vehicle while it is on a private road or driveway. For example, if a person has an open bottle of alcohol in their vehicle while parked on a driveway in Nebraska, they have not broken open container laws.

Open Container Laws Not Involving A Vehicle

Open container laws do not strictly apply to vehicles only, and having an open container on the street is illegal in many states as well. These laws often mean that a person cannot have an open container of alcohol while walking along a public road, sidewalk, or other area, and these open container laws apply to most states and regions within the country. There are two notable exceptions, however, with Las Vegas and New Orleans, where those over the age of 21 may be able to walk down the street with an open container of alcohol, but other restrictions on the alcohol may be enforced.

What counts as an open container may vary, but it generally refers to either a bottle that’s original seal has been broken or an alcoholic beverage poured into a cup. In some states, if a bottle’s seal is broken, some contents must be missing for it to be considered an open container, and these laws will differ from state to state. In Florida, for example, a half full bottle of wine will not be considered an open container if it is resealed by a restaurant, and in Louisiana, a person may carry a frozen daiquiri as long as the lid has not been removed and no straw was inserted into the beverage. It is always best for a person to look at the law for their individual state before carrying an unsealed bottle or other type of alcoholic beverage, as these laws can vary so greatly from area to area.

Open Container Defenses And Liability

In open container cases, the defendant has to have been aware that the container was open at the time in question. One defense that can be used is if the defendant can prove that the container had a faulty seal, and it had opened due to no fault of their own. In some states, a driver or owner of a vehicle can use the defense that a passenger brought the open container into the car without their knowledge, and the passenger will then face open container law charges instead. Proper defenses may vary by state, and consulting an attorney before deciding on a defense is always recommended.

Open container penalties will often vary from simple infractions to misdemeanors. Infractions are normally not considered to be criminal convictions, although they will often come with fines or community service, and they are not searchable on a person’s criminal record. Minors found in violation of open container laws will typically face harsher penalties than adults.

Open Container Exemptions

Some situations are exempt under open container laws, and a person’s individual situation is important when considering what may or may not be legal under a state’s open container law. For instance, open containers in a limousine or party bus are typically allowed, and many states do not count open containers held in a trunk of a car, particularly if the trunk is inaccessible to those riding inside of the vehicle.

Selling Or Providing Alcohol To Minors

It is illegal to sell or provide alcohol to minors in all 50 states, but each state will vary on the harshness of the penalties a person may incur if found guilty of selling or providing alcohol to a person under the age of 21. Some states do allow a parent to give their minor child alcohol, however, given that the child is under guidance and at the home, and other exceptions may also apply for medicinal uses or religious ceremonies where a person under the age of 21 is ingesting alcohol.

Penalties for supplying a minor with alcohol will vary, but they are typically considered to be misdemeanor charges that carry penalties such as fines, jail time, probation, community service, or the revocation of a liquor license.

Contact A Criminal Defense Attorney

When facing charges related to alcohol consumption, alcohol possession or DUI it is always best to seek the assistance of a skilled 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 including Norristown, Ambler, Plymouth Meeting and King of Prussia.

Expungement of Alcohol Crimes

Many alcohol related crimes may be expunged under certain circumstances.

DUI charges expungement

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 Expungement

A person 21 years of age or older who was convicted of Underage Drinking may successfully petition to have his conviction expunged.

Summary Offenses Expungement

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 Criminal Defense Lawyer V. Erik Petersen

When facing charges relating to a DUI, alcohol possession or Underage Drinking, it is best to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Call me for a free consultation. I routinely defend those accused of DUI and other drug and alcohol related crimes throughout South Eastern Pennsylvania (SEPA.)

Call 215-513-1700 for a free consultation.