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Defenses to Common Drinking Offenses

In Pennsylvania, the sales and use of alcoholic beverages are strictly regulated. Many people attribute this to our Quaker heritage, much the way that the state of Utah has similar oversight because of their Mormon heritage. Whatever the origin, the Commonwealth is known to perhaps more zealously prosecute alcohol related offenses than other states.

If you should find yourself being investigated for an alcohol related offense you should keep these tips in mind.

  1. You have a right to remain silent. If an officer asks you if you were drinking, particularly if you were not in the operation of a motor vehicle, you have no duty to answer that question. You may choose to use verbiage such as, "Officer, I respectfully exercise my Constitutional right to remain silent," or "I choose to remain silent." The latter way may be better if you are not in condition to recite polysyllabic words like "constitutional". Stating that you have been drinking is at least a partial confession.
  2. In furtherance of number 1, you should never admit that you have been drinking. You may have read in the Bible that, "The truth shall set you free." Rest assured that God was not speaking to you regarding your interactions with law enforcement. Silence is not only your right, but it is most often the right way to go.
  3. As I stated in a prior blog tailored specifically to DUI stops-you do not have to submit to a hand-held breath test (also called a PBT for "portable breath test"). In most cases, it is better that you do not. Do not be afraid to politely decline. It will then be incumbent upon the officer to make a choice of whether to place you under arrest and to request a blood or calibrated breath test at the hospital or barracks.
  4. If you are operating a motor vehicle, you have a duty to provide your license if you are stopped. However, if you are not operating a vehicle, there is no duty to carry identification in America. If you are underage, it is an element of the offense that the Commonwealth must prove that you are under-age drinking that you are under 21. For this reason, the police will have difficulty prosecuting you for the offense without proof of your age, such as your identification. Please understand however that you should definitely NEVER lie to law enforcement about your name or date of birth as such actions are crimes on their own. However, if you do not have identification on your person, the absence of identification cannot be used against you to establish the under-age consumption of alcoholic beverages.
  5. Control yourself. Being under age in the presence of alcohol, even if you smell like alcohol, is insufficient to successfully prosecute you for under-age drinking without other indicia of intoxication or consumption. If you choose to talk, your admission to drinking alcohol can be used against you. Likewise, if you slur, fall down, or demonstrate belligerent behavior, it can be used against you to prove that you were consuming alcohol in violation of the statute, while under age. (See Commonwealth v. Williamson, 532 Pa. 568). Likewise, in addition to the Commonwealth proving that you are underage and that you consumed alcohol, it is also yet another necessary element of proving the offense to demonstrate that you are impaired, or that the substance consumed was sufficiently alcoholic to meet the definition of the statute. (See Commonwealth v. Tau Kappa Epsilon, 530 Pa. 416; 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 6310.6).
  6. Never be combative or ignorant with police officers. It is a frustrating thing to be investigated or arrested. However, courteous interaction will always be more successful than argument with the authorities and rudeness on your part could make your situation worse. If you want to express your frustration to the police, tell a friend or your lawyer. Later.

Chances are that you are reading this after you have had an issue. However, even if you read this before any issue and try to follow these tips to the letter, there are many instances that you may still not have a good case at trial. In those instances, it is frequently better to plead. Still, the stronger the Commonwealth's case, the harder it will be for a lawyer to get you a better deal. So do your best to be courteous while not doing the Commonwealth's job for them and it should help to improve your outcome.

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