Underage Drinking

We all know it’s illegal.

We’ve heard the public service announcements and the heartbreaking stories of those whose lives have been affected by either engaging in, or being the victim of someone else’s underage drinking.

Unfortunately holidays, including upcoming St. Patrick’s day, are a time when incidents of public intoxication, driving under the influence and underage drinking reach their highest.

Below are some common questions heard through the Lawyer Referral Service about the topic:

I always have a big party for St. Patrick’s Day this month, and my 17 year old and 20 year old son will be there as well and have asked to bring some of their friends. As long as I keep an eye on the kids and make sure they’re not getting too out of control, there’s no problem if I serve them drinks is there? I’d hate to see them miss out on the fun.

Pennsylvania, like many other states applies a “social host law” to people who decide to serve alcohol to minors at a private party. Basically the law states that if you serve alcohol to a minor, and the minor injures either themselves or someone else, the host can be sued and may have to pay damages to the injured person.

Parents who allow minors to drink in their home not only can face civil liability, but can also be charged with furnishing alcohol to minors – a charge punishable by at least a $1000 fine and up to a year in prison.

My 18 year old daughter’s best friend was picked up for underage drinking. She thinks it’s funny and not a big deal because the police will always take it easy on someone who is young and this is their first offense. I am worried that my daughter isn’t taking this seriously and could fall into the same behavior. If she’s picked up will they be more lenient because she’s young?

Although you are a legal adult at age 18 YOU ARE NOT OF LEGAL DRINKING AGE. Not only will you be charged as an adult, you will face adult penalties as well.

Under Pennsylvania law, if you are found to have ANY measurable amount of alcohol in your system you will be charged with an underage DUI, and you will lose your license for 90 days- even if it is your first offense. You will also face fines as well, which start at $500 and go up from there. If this is not a first offense, the duration of license suspension jumps up to one year, then two and the fines will go up to $1000 for each subsequent offense.

These penalties are specifically designed to apply to someone who is young. Are they treating her differently because she’s young? Yes- this is a specific crime just for this age bracket.

My son is turning 16 and was picked up at a party for underage drinking last year. He’s a really good kid and has been on the straight and narrow since then – I think it scared him. Is there anything we need to know before he applies for his learner’s permit?

Unfortunately your son will not be able to get his learner’s permit. If a person is under 16 when they are convicted or taken into some type of diversionary program, the “license” suspension begins when they turn 16. If it was your son’s first offense, he will have to wait until 90 days AFTER he turns 16 to apply for a learner’s permit. If someone is over 16 but doesn’t have their learner’s permit, they will be ineligible to apply for a permit for the duration of what would have been the suspension. So if a person is 17, they don’t have a learner’s permit, and this is their second offense, they cannot apply for a permit for a year.

These are penalties which stay with someone for quite some time.

After a neighbor called about excessive noise, the police came to my 17 year old daughter’s boyfriend’s home (where a great deal of her friends were drinking) and several of them, including my daughter were cited for disorderly conduct. Is this better or worse than a citation for underage drinking?

As with many things there is both good news and bad news. A disorderly conduct charge does not carry with it the possibility of losing a driver’s license which can be very helpful, if someone is currently working or attending school and needs transportation. The bad news is that it is much easier to clear a record of an underage drinking citation, rather than a disorderly conduct one. Once someone is convicted of underage drinking, they may petition the court to expunge their record once they reach 21. In the case of a disorderly conduct charge, you will need to wait five years to petition the court to expunge the record.

Again, the penalties can stay with you for a while.

As always, for any questions regarding underage drinking or for a referral to an attorney practicing in that field, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at (412) 261-5555 or visit them on-line at www.pittsburghlawyerfinder.org.