This section discusses the legal consequences of some more common alcohol-related offenses, and it is not meant to cover every offense. Penn State students may also face Code of Conduct violations for alcohol offenses, even those that occur off campus.
- Underage drinking
The drinking age in Pennsylvania is 21. It is not just illegal to drink when you're under 21, it is also illegal to possess alcohol (e.g. keep it in your room, hold it for someone), to transport alcohol (e.g. drive it in your car, even if someone else in the car is 21), or to attempt to purchase alcohol.
Underage drinking is a summary offense.
It is a 'stacking' offense, meaning the punishment gets worse each time you get one. A first offense is punishable by up to a $500 fine, whereas a second offense goes up to a maximum of a $1,000 fine. Underage Drinking is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. If considering a jail sentence, the court will send the defendant a letter before the hearing advising of the risk of jail time and allowing the defendant to obtain counsel.
Many Magisterial District Judges will offer a diversionary program for first offense underage citations, such as the YOP program in Centre County. If a diversionary program is offered and accepted, there is usually an educational or community service requirement, the costs and fees associated with the ticket are due, but the fine is not, and the citation is marked as 'dismissed' when the program is successfully completed.
- Public drunkenness
Public drunkenness means:
- You're in a public place, and
- You've had so much to drink, or used other controlled substances, to the degree that you may have,
- Endangered yourself,
- Endangered others,
- Endangered others' property, or
- Annoyed people.
Public drunkenness is a summary offense. A first offense carries a maximum fine of $500, a second offense $1,000. Public drunkenness is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. If considering a jail sentence, the court will send the defendant a letter before the hearing advising of the risk of jail time and allowing the defendant to obtain counsel.
- Public urination and defecation
Some areas have local ordinances prohibiting public urination and defecation. In areas that do not, the behavior is ofted cited as disorderly conduct.
Public restrooms are available in most parking garages in State College Borough 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Borough of State College prohibits public urination and defecation. The ordinance provides a fine of not less than $750 for a first offense, and $1,000 for a subsequent offense.
- Open container
Some areas have local ordinances prohibiting possession or transportation of an open container of alcohol.
The Borough of State College prohibits the possession or transportation of open containers of alcoholic beverages. You cannot possess an open container (beer can, bottle, cup of alcohol) on any public street, sidewalk, park, or alley, or public parking lot/garage (or within a car in a lot garage). The fines are a maximum of $250 for the first offense. Higher fines can be assessed for subsequent offenses within a 120 day period ($500 for a second and $1,000 for a third).
- Furnishing alcohol to a minor
Furnishing alcohol to a minor means to:
- intentionally or knowingly,
- sell, furnish, or purchase with the intent to furnish,
- any liquor or malt or brewed beverage,
- to a person who is less than 21 years of age.
This is a third-degree misdemeanor. The minimum fine for a first offense is $1,000 and maximum jail time is 1 year.
- You don't have to be 21 to be charged with furnishing!
- Local police departments and Liquor Control Enforcement officers monitor and look for suspicious behaviors at distributors, state stores, and other places where students often go to buy alcohol for minors.
- If bad things happen to the minor who drank the alcohol, or if the minor causes bad things to happen to other people after drinking the alcohol, the furnisher is at risk for more than just a furnishing charge, they might also be held responsible under civil law for the injuries to the minor and other people or property hurt by the minors actions.
- Driving under the influence
The legal BAC limit for driving is:
- Under 21 years = 0.02 percent
- 21 and over = 0.08 percent
DUI laws are not limited to alcohol, it is also illegal to drive when safe driving is impaired by any controlled substance.
There are a variety of levels and penalties for driving under the influence. Charges can range from an ungraded misdemeanor to a felony of the third degree. Penalties can include jail time, fines, license suspension, classes, and drug and alcohol assessment.
- Diversionary programs and levels of offenses
A local ordinance violation is a type of summary offense that is defined by a local municipality and enforced only within that municipality, not the state. Common local ordinance provisions are public urination, noise ordinances, and open container rules. On the University Park campus, University Police do not enforce local ordinances; instead, University Police charge individuals with offenses that are defined by state law. The state law offenses frequently concern the same disruptive behaviors that local ordinances are designed to prohibit.
A summary offense is the lowest level of criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Unless a person is arrested and booked (fingerprints and mugshots are taken), a summary offense does not appear on the individual's Pennsylvania State Police criminal history. Pennsylvania employers are not permitted to consider summary offenses when making adverse hiring decisions. Summary offenses can carry jail time of up to 90 days. If the Judge is considering jail time or if there is mandatory jail time, the court must send notice to the defendant before the hearing date and allow the defendant to obtain an attorney (or have an attorney appointed if unable to afford one).
A misdemeanor offense is more serious than a summary offense, but less than a felony. Within misdemeanors, there are also levels, with the lowest being ungraded misdemeanors and the highest being first degree misdemeanors. Misdemeanor and felony offenses appear on an individual's Pennsylvania State Police Criminal History if the person is fingerprinted.
The courts will sometimes offer a diversionary program for a first offense. For summary offenses, the availability and conditions of a diversionary program is up to the local Magisterial District Judge in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. There are three different Magisterial District Judges who serve various parts of the University Park campus and the immediately surrounding community, and all have slightly different programs and qualification requirements. There are three other Magisterial District Judges in Centre County, but their jurisdiction covers areas further away from campus.
For misdemeanor offenses, the availability and conditions of a diversionary program is up to the District Attorney. Many courts offer some type of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. Centre County offers both an ARD program and a specialized diversionary program, Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, for certain marijuana small amount possession and paraphernalia cases.
No legal advice is provided on this website. Every case is different. For advice about your specific situation, please complete our intake form to request an appointment with an attorney.
Reviewed: June 4, 2019