It is that time of year again.  Students are making their way back to school.  It is an exciting time as preparations for a new semester are well under way if not already started.  It is a time where students reconnect with friends they may not have seen, in some cases, since school got out in the spring.

It is also a time where those reunions often result in celebrations.  Many of these celebrations involve alcohol.  While it is illegal in Pennsylvania for a person under the age of 21 to imbibe alcohol, few people know that the law is actually much more restrictive than that.  The law also forbids the possession and/or purchase of alcohol by a minor.  This has led to many situations where merely being at a party where alcohol is being served can lead to an underaged person being charged with an alcohol offense.

Being charged with an underaged drinking offense can be embarrassing.  You are arrested by the police, your parents and often your school are notified of the offense.  These types of offenses often carry serious ramifications, such as license suspension (90 days for a first offense, 1 year for a second offense) and potentially discipline from the school.

Many of the people charged with underage alcohol offense have the same questions:

Should I just plead to the charges, pay my fine, and make this whole thing go away?

Whie at least initially, the shock of being arrested makes people think about just paying the fine and making the charges go away.  However, the charges do not just go away.  A criminal conviction for underaged drinking will stay on your record for at least five years.  This often creates problems for students looking to go into education and other sensitive areas.  Additionally, PennDot will suspend your license for 90 days for a first offense and 1 year for a second offense.  These are serious charges that often can and need to be negotiated down to much less severe penalties.  In many cases you may even need to take a trial to clear your name.  You only have 10 days to ask for a hearing, so the clock is ticking.  Call the Law Offices of Ryan L. Hyde and we can discuss ways to minimize the damages these charges will do to your future.

How can I be found guilty if I wasn’t even drinking?

Again, it is important to note that the statute is much more broad than just drinking.  Officers usually charge first and ask questions later when they break up a party.  The statute states that anyone in possession, and possession in Pennsylvania is defined very broadly, can be charged with underaged drinking.  The fact that you weren’t drinking is useful in your defense but may not be sufficient to absolve you of your charges.

How can the officer possibly prove I was drinking, he didn’t even breathalyze me?

The simple fact of the matter is officers don’t breathalyze people in most underaged drinking cases.  Portable breath tests, the ones the officers carry with them, have been found to be unreliable by the courts.  While they are admissible to show the presence of alcohol, they aren’t admissible for much else.  Officers are trained to spot signs of intoxication.  They formulate opinions based on your appearance and how you react to stimuli.  The classic example is slurred speech, disheveled appearance and red and glassy eyes (you hear this in almost every case).  There are many other conditions (fatigue) that cause these symptoms but the police won’t give you the benefit of the doubt.

Going back to school is a fun time.  Don’t let a single incident ruin your whole year.  Be careful at events where there are underaged people are drinking.  Your future may depend on it.  If you are charged the Attorney Ryan L. Hyde has handled dozens of cases involving students from West Chester University, Villanova University, Delaware Valley University and many other high schools, community college and schools.  Hyde’s experience can vastly improve your outcome and minimize the penalties you may face.  Before you make the decision to plead guilty call the Law Offices of Ryan L. Hyde for a free and confidential consultation.