The legal age to consume alcohol in Pennsylvania is one of the most widely known laws in the state. Simply put, it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to possess or consume alcoholic beverages. A person who violates the law could be subject to mandatory fines, alcohol treatment programs or both. This is in addition to having a criminal record that can follow you for years.
Because the violation of underage drinking statutes is a strict liability offense (i.e., no intent is required to be proven), most may believe that they are immediately guilty, but this may not always be the case. Pennsylvania law allows for several affirmative defenses that can be asserted to avoid a conviction.
This post will highlight a few.
A drink served on private property – If a person under 21 consumes an alcoholic beverage on private property with the consent of the person’s parents and the property owner, this can be raised as a defense. It is not uncommon for toasts to be allowed during celebrations (i.e., weddings, religious ceremonies).
For educational purposes – College students can have alcoholic drinks as part of scientific experiments and surveys for research purposes. Examples of such trials are studies to show the effect of alcohol on motor skills, or cognitive abilities. Educational purposes may also include culinary lessons. Any educational purpose must be supervised by a qualified instructor.
Reporting an emergency situation – This is especially important for people who call 911 to report that an underage drinker is in distress. It is public policy in Pennsylvania that underage drinkers should not be discouraged from calling for help due to the fear of being charged with a crime because they had been drinking. With the number of college students being killed or seriously injured because of the lack of responsive measures, it is increasingly important for students to seek help for distressed peers.
Religious purposes – Having an alcoholic beverage as part of a religious ceremony is considered protected speech under the First Amendment.
If you are charged with a crime and need legal advice on your rights and options, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you.