Reasonable people disagree over whether the minimum drinking age is the best way to handle drinking among young people. Many people argue that parents, not the government, should decide when it’s appropriate for young people to drink. Others believe that safe, appropriate alcohol consumption is something people learn over time, so having an abrupt start date of 21 puts people at risk for overconsumption. Still others point out that so many young people drink that it’s perverse to criminalize the behavior.

Those are all reasonable arguments, but they don’t carry the day. The fact is, underage drinking is illegal.

Whether you’re in college, high school or even younger, the consequences for underage drinking in Pennsylvania can be quite serious. Even if this is your first offense, you could face at least a $500 fine, and the fines go up with additional offenses. Plus, if you were caught driving with even 0.02% alcohol in your blood, you could face all the consequences for DUI that an adult would.

You won’t get a break from the judge because you’re underage. These laws were designed with underage people in mind.

Can parents or older people authorize underage drinking?

Not in Pennsylvania. For one thing, they could be charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor, and that could mean up to a year in prison and a fine of at least $1,000.

For another thing, Pennsylvania has a “social host” law for people who provide alcohol to minors. If an underage drinker goes on to injure someone, the social host can face civil liability for the damages.

Could I face other charges?

If you’ve already been cited for underage drinking, the prosecutor probably won’t go back and charge you for another offense. However, underage drinkers can be charged with applicable offenses like disorderly conduct or DUI.

How is underage DUI different from adult DUI?

In Pennsylvania, as in many states, we have what’s called a “zero tolerance” law for underage drinking and driving. People under 21 are considered under the influence at 0.02% blood alcohol content. A first-offense underage DUI is treated like a first-offense adult DUI in terms of penalties. It generally results in six months of probation, a $300 fine, mandatory traffic safety school and the possibility of court-ordered alcohol treatment. Plus, you will have an upgraded misdemeanor on your record.

Again, the penalties only get more serious with additional offenses. And, the penalties are more serious if you have 0.10% blood alcohol or 0.16% blood alcohol.

Call a criminal defense lawyer

If you or a loved one has been charged with underage drinking, DUI or another alcohol-related offense, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to limit the damage by getting your charge dismissed, negotiating a plea agreement or defending you in court.