Can My Child Be Charged With Underage Drinking Just for Being at a Party?

Few activities strike fear into a parent’s heart quite like teenagers partying unsupervised. Unfortunately, some of this concern is warranted: many parties do involve underage alcohol consumption, and some of those parties do get broken up by police. In such cases, parents might wonder if their child can be charged with underage drinking just for being present at the party. The answer can be yes, depending on the circumstances. Even if a minor was not actively drinking when a party is broken up, they may still face criminal charges under Pennsylvania law.

Pennsylvania’s Underage Drinking Laws

In Pennsylvania, as in most states, it is illegal for a minor under the age of 21 to purchase, consume, possess, or transport alcohol. Offenses are typically punishable by fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 and by suspension of driving privileges. Jail time is also possible.

When Being at a Party is Enough

It may seem illogical that a minor could be charged with underage drinking offenses despite not consuming alcohol. However, there are some circumstances that can make it very easy for police to charge even sober minors with alcohol offenses.

  • Possession – Recall that mere possession of alcohol is illegal for minors. This means that if your child is holding an alcoholic beverage when police arrive, even if they aren’t drinking it, police may arrest your child. Police can also make such arrests when a minor is holding something that only appears to be alcohol. (Think an open cup at a party with alcoholic punch, for instance).
  • Intoxicated behavior – For police to make an arrest, they must have cause to believe that the law is being broken. In the case of underage drinking, this can mean observing a minor in possession of alcohol, but it can also mean observing intoxicated behavior. If police enter a party where alcohol is being served and your child is acting belligerent or unpredictable, it is possible that they could be arrested despite being sober.
  • Police judgment – Finally, it’s important to remember that arrests are ultimately up to the responding officer’s judgment. Police officers may simply arrest all the underage parties present if they believe most have been drinking. Such charges might not stick, especially with the help of a defense attorney, but they can still be pressed.

Preventing Drinking Charges

The easiest way to avoid being charged with underage drinking offenses is to avoid parties where it occurs. However, teenagers will not always comply with this advice, so it’s important to teach them to protect themselves if the police break up a party.

  • Avoid drinking or possessing alcohol – If your child has not been drinking, it will be much easier to fight any subsequent charges.
  • Comply with police, but don’t answer questions – If your child is suspected of underage drinking, teach them to immediately request a lawyer and to refuse to answer any questions. Talking to police without a lawyer’s guidance can never help your child, and may even give the police evidence against them.
  • Don’t run or fight – Attempting to evade or resist arrest may lead to additional charges.

When to Get a Defense Attorney

If your child is suspected of underage drinking at a party, you should immediately contact a qualified defense attorney. The attorneys at Skinner Law Firm can help both juveniles and underage adults facing drinking charges. Contact us online or call us at (610) 436-1410 to schedule a free consultation, and find out how we can defend your child and minimize any impact on their future.

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