The beginning of fall and the start of college lends itself to a spike in the filing of citations for possession, purchase, transportation or consumption of alcohol by a minor. In Pennsylvania, this summary level offense of underage drinking places a prohibition upon minors and adults under the age of twenty-one (21). Though it is not a criminal misdemeanor or felony, a guilty plea or conviction carries a mandatory loss of driving privileges of ninety days to one year and conviction record that is public information on the internet.
In some cases, the police use this time of year to “spot check” with surprise raids on bars to determine if underage drinkers are being illegal served or are carrying false IDs. In Pennsylvania, a charge of false ID can be graded as either a summary offense or misdemeanor and is considered a crime of dishonesty or “crimen falsi”. This can have significant ramifications on your ability to obtain and maintain employment or on educational applications.
Different college towns throughout Pennsylvania are handling underage drinking in different ways. In West Chester Pennsylvania in suburban Philadelphia, borough officials are looking to avoid another mega party that resulted in what described as a riot and flipped car back in May of 2013. Their “Operation Vigilance” is aimed at further prosecuting charges like underage drinking, drunk driving, public drunkenness and public urination and open container violations throughout this quaint community. The emphasis is on college students, that the West Chester Police claim accounted for almost one half of all alcohol citations and arrests.
These type of community offensives are becoming more common in an atmosphere where some wish to hold colleges liability for crimes caused by binge drinking and underage drinking not effective monitored, prevented and prosecuted by the school. One advocate, Jennifer O’Brien who is involved with the group, Bringing Theory to Practice, suggests that “colleges and universities have a duty to make their campuses safe and part of making that safe is to enforce any regulations that they set forth…the regulations of the campus and the requirements that they have in reference to alcohol. Drugs, prevention of sexual violence. A natural progression of this would be to hold colleges and universities civilly liable for violent acts such as rape caused by binge drinking, etc.
Programs such as Operation Vigilance have their share of detractors as individuals debate the fairness of prosecuting individuals for drinking underage in a society that promotes and markets drinking on a 24/7 basis. There is additional outrage by students and parents alike of how they interpret a change in college and university’s approach to underage drinking over the past twenty years. In many cases the perception is that whether in the past college security’s main role was to protect the students, its role is now to protect the school from liability by sternly prosecuting college students with summary and criminal prosecution.
In a rough economic environment, each and every student is look for an advantage and seeking to avoid any blotch that could jeopardize their future. That is where the publication of such charges on the PA Portal (Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System) and the licensing penalty can have significant impact on a student and their future.