A minor in Pennsylvania may not buy (or attempt to buy), possess, or knowingly and intentionally transport alcohol; or knowingly use false identification (or other misrepresentations) to obtain alcohol. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 6307(a)& 6308(a).) It is also illegal for a minor to work serving or handling alcohol in an establishment that is licensed to sell alcohol (for example, a bar or night club). (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 44.) There are few exceptions to these rules, explained below.
Pennsylvania recognizes six exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing or consuming alcohol, or working in establishments that serve alcohol.
A 14- or 15-year old minor may work in licensed establishments (such as ski resorts, golf courses, and amusement parks), as long as the minor does not serve or handle alcohol, and does not enter any room where alcohol is served or stored. A licensed establishment may also employ minors between 16 and 20 years old to work in areas where minors are allowed (such as within a hotel or restaurant). These employees may not enter areas that serve alcohol, unless the establishment’s gross sales of food are at least 40% of the total gross sales of food and alcohol combined. In this case, the underage employees may serve food and do other work (such as clearing tables), but may not dispense or serve alcohol. Minors may also enter and remain in such establishments as patrons, but may not order or consume alcohol. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 44.) Minors older than 18 may also work in establishments that distill, brew, or bottle alcohol; or that import, distribute, or deliver wholesale alcohol. These minors may handle and deliver the alcohol (for example, by making deliveries to grocery stores or bars), but may not dispense or serve the alcohol (such as pouring drinks in a restaurant). (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 4-493(27).)
While it is normally illegal for a performer in a bar (or other establishment serving alcohol) to be younger than 18, underage performing arts students have a special exception. These students may present an exhibition or performance within the alcohol-selling establishment , as long as the students are under their instructor’s supervision, and are unpaid. Minors older than 18 may also work as paid entertainers in such establishments (that is, without being supervised students). However, no minors may not possess or consume any alcohol while in such an establishment. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 4-493(13).)
Minors may enter alcohol-selling establishments as long as they are with (and remain with) a parent or legal guardian. However, these minors may not possess or consume alcohol. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 4-493(14)(a),(b),&(e).)
Minors may enter licensed establishments for social or school gatherings, as long as they are supervised by an adult; and the licensee—the person licensed to sell alcohol in Pennsylvania—provides written notice of the gathering to the Bureau of Enforcement at least 48 hours before the gathering. For social gatherings, each adult may supervise up to 20 minors; for school-endorsed functions, each adult may supervise up to 50 minors. However, under some circumstances, such as in some very large cities, each adult may supervise nor more than five minors. This varies by city, and should be researched by the licensee or school administrator before the gathering takes place. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 4-493(14)(c),(d),&(e).)
A minor will be immune from prosecution for possession or consumption of alcohol if law enforcement (or campus safety) only became aware of the minor’s violation through the minor’s call for help for another person needing immediate medical attention. The minor must have reasonably believed that the minor was the first person to call the for emergency services, provided the minor’s own name when making the call, and stayed with the person needing medical help until the emergency services arrived. The minor must be able to establish all of these things to receive immunity. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 6308(f).)
A minor older than 18 may buy (or attempt to buy), possess, or transport—but not consume—alcohol if the minor is an officer, employee, or intern of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement; acting in the scope of the minor’s duties as such; and under the control and supervision of an adult bureau officer. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 6308(e)(1)&(2).)
The police department will notify a minor’s parent or legal guardian when making an arrest for a suspected violation of one of Pennsylvania’s minor in possession laws. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 6308(d).)
The consequences of violating Pennsylvania’s minor in possession laws depend on the violation.
In addition to possible driver’s license suspension (for all violations), second and subsequent convictions are subject to a fine of up to $500 (as decided by the judge). Having consumed alcohol in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the citation was given is not a defense to these penalties. Breaking one of these laws is a “summary offense,” meaning that the minor is not entitled to have a jury trial to determine his guilt. Instead, a judge considers the facts and situation, and rules on a punishment within the guidelines described above. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 6308(a)&(b).)
A minor who misrepresents the minor’s age to buy or consume alcohol is guilty of a summary offense (for first violations). For second and subsequent violations, the minor may be charged with a misdemeanor of the third degree. In addition to possible driver’s license suspension (for all violations), the judge may impose a fine of up to $500 for second and subsequent violations. For all violations, the judge may also rule that the minor is delinquent, and impose an additional fine of up to $500. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 6307(a)&(b).)
In Pennsylvania, it may be possible for a minor to participate in an adjudication alternative program, if the minor has not previously participated in such a program before. Be sure to ask the court clerk or judge about such alternatives, because successful completion of this kind of program can prevent having a conviction on a minor’s public record. Through this alternative, a minor may also avoid license suspension and fines. However, such participation is still considered a first (or subsequent) offense for the purpose of adjudicating future offenses. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 6308(c).)
It is illegal in Pennsylvania to sell, furnish, or give alcohol to a minor; or for a licensee to permit alcohol to be furnished to a minor; or allow a minor to enter or remain in the licensee’s alcohol-selling establishment. (Penn. Stat. & Con. Stats. Section 4-493(1)&(14).)
Because local procedures and attitude towards the Pennsylvania minor in possession laws vary by community, it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with how these cases are handled in your area. This will give you a better chance of achieving the most favorable outcome under the unique circumstances of your case.