Criminal Issues for College Students Part 2: Alcohol and the Law

By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

Part 2 in a series of blogs on the unique exposure that college students face with regard to criminal charges and the potential impact of minor criminal charges on aspiring young professionals.

For better or for worse, the college experience for many students includes some amount of alcohol. Though some get carried away and engage in problem behaviors in the college setting, the consequences of alcohol for most students are limited to the occasional queasy Saturday morning and maybe some embarrassing fuzzy memories. However, as much as alcohol and college are often synonymous, police and law enforcement do not make exceptions for college students who break the law. Unfortunately, there is no “pass” for college students when it comes to alcohol and the law. For this reason, even casual social drinkers should be aware of some of the more common non-DUI problems that college students encounter with alcohol and the law:

Underage Drinking

Most people know that it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 to drink alcohol in Pennsylvania. In fact, it is unlawful for a person under 21 to purchase, attempt to purchase, possess, consume, or intentionally transport alcohol. A first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $500, and a second offense a fine of up to $1000. More importantly, a conviction for this offense carries a mandatory driver’s license suspension, which cannot be waived by the court. Even students with out of state driver’s licenses may be subject to suspension under the Driver’s License Compact.

Often, college students who are issued a citation for this offense plead guilty, thinking that the problem will “go away” when the fine is paid. This could not be further from the truth. In addition to the unwelcome surprise of a driver’s license suspension, this conviction will appear on a criminal record indefinitely unless it is expunged. For some professions, particularly those involving professional licensing like teaching or nursing, an alcohol-related criminal record could be a serious impediment to future career success.

Though it may be tempting to simply pay the fine and “get it over with,” it is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney about the possible long term consequences for anyone facing an underage drinking citation.

Fake ID/Misrepresentation of Age

In Pennsylvania, it is unlawful for a person under 21 to possess any identification card falsely identifying that person by name, age, date of birth or photograph as being 21 years of age or older. It is also unlawful for those under 21 to use another’s identification to attempt to purchase alcohol, or to knowingly and falsely identify themselves as being over 21 in an attempt to purchase alcohol. All of these offenses carry a mandatory license suspension, and a second or subsequent offense is a misdemeanor, carrying up to one year in jail and a $2500 fine. This is in addition to any penalties that may be incurred for the act of possession or attempting to purchase the alcohol itself.

As with underage drinking, the consequences of a conviction for any of the above offenses runs well beyond the initial fine or penalty.
Not only do such convictions bear the same risks to future career success as those described above for underage drinking, but they also could constitute a “crime of falsehood” in future background checks. For those whose career aspirations may require court testimony, such as law enforcement officers, a conviction for a crime of falsehood can have a devastating impact.

Again, for any student charged with any such offense, it is critical to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney before making any decisions that may have unforeseen future impacts. The problem will not “go away” by pleading guilty, and the effects may be felt long after the fines are paid.

Furnishing Alcohol to Minors

For those who have reached the age of 21, the college culture can put pressure on a student to purchase alcohol for those under 21. In Pennsylvania, the offense of Furnishing Alcohol to Minors occurs when a person “intentionally and knowingly sells or intentionally and knowingly furnishes, or purchases with the intent to sell or furnish, any liquor or malt or brewed beverages to a person who is less than 21 years of age.” This offense is a misdemeanor of the 3rd degree, meaning that each violation could carry a penalty of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. It also carries a mandatory minimum $1000 fine for a first offense and a $2500 fine for any subsequent offenses.

A student who provides alcohol to multiple minors could face one count for each minor involved. The state can pursue the mandatory minimum fine for each count, and the court could run the penalties for each count consecutively. Obviously, these consequences can add up quickly for a student who makes the mistake of supplying for a party involving a crowd of minors. The law also potentially exposes a person providing minors with alcohol to criminal prosecution for injuries and accidents resulting from intoxication. This has included cases in which providers of alcohol have been found recklessly culpable for vehicular homicide, where minors who drank the alcohol were later involved in an alcohol-related car accident.

For anyone charged with, or who may be charged with, furnishing alcohol to minors, the stakes can be quite high. In fact, given the criminal responsibility that could be passed along if minors are injured as a result of drinking, it may not even be clear at the outset what those stakes are. For this reason, it is vital to have the representation of a criminal defense attorney if you are charged with, or think that you may be charged with, furnishing alcohol to minors.

If you are a student and you have been charged with a criminal offense, no matter how minor, you need an experienced attorney. Our attorneys can help you navigate and understand the effect of a criminal charge on your future, rather than simply focusing on the immediate consequences of the current case. Contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your future.

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