Both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature recently passed a proposal to increase the maximum fine permitted for Underage Drinking and Public Drunkenness charges to $1,000.00. For those that happen to remember the 1980's School House Rocks series, the proposal is now a bill that is awaiting the signature of the governor before becoming law. While I wish that the governor would veto the proposal as I do not believe that an increased fine will do anything to reduce underage consumption or over indulgence, it is my understanding that the governor is likely to sign the bill.
Increased Max Fine for State College Underage Drinking Cases
Supporters of the bill locally claim that the fine increase gives a judge discretion to impose a higher fine in more severe cases of underage drinking or public drunkenness, such as repeat offenders. As a Penn State criminal defense attorney, I see many underage drinking and public drunkenness citations go through the State College courts, and the fines on such citations in Centre County are set at the maximum level. In other counties, such a Blair and Clinton, the fines for such offenses are not set at the maximum level. The fines in Underage Drinking cases are set by the judge and thereby vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the fines in Centre County routinely are set at the maximum level. I fear that the ability to increase the fine to $1,000.00 will soon be routinely used.
Which is Worse - DUI or Underage Drinking
To put the fine into perspective, a first offense of DUI in the lowest level of punishment carries a $300.00 fine. I find it hard to believe that a person could be charged with Underage Drinking and also a DUI, and the fine for the Underage Drinking charge could be more than the fine for driving a vehicle while intoxicated. Underage Drinking generally puts the person drinking in harm's way, whereas a DUI puts everyone around the drunk driver in harm's way. If the proponents of this law actually want the increased fine to act as a deterrent, maybe the State College current DUI signs should changed to "Underage Drinking - You Can't Afford It."