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Impact of Pennsylvania's "Good Samaritan" Law on Penn State Underage Drinkers

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A few years ago, I had a client that had been engaged in underage drinking at Penn State with some friends, and one of the friends over-imbibed and needed medical assistance.  My client wanted to get help for his friend but didn't want to be caught for Underage Drinking.  Instead of calling an ambulance, which he knew would bring the Penn State police, he decided to put the friend in an office chair and wheel him across campus to the student health center.  Not so surprisingly, the Penn State police noticed the drunken office chair exodus, stopped my client, and issued an Underage Drinking citation.  Regrettably, the Penn State police officer was not willing to cut my client a break despite the fact that he was doing the right thing.

Some people will question why the client didn't simply call the ambulance. The problem is that the Penn State police generally respond to alcohol-related medical calls, and the Penn State police routinely issue Underage Drinking, Public Drunkenness, and Disorderly Conduct citations in such instances. While the Penn State student may have made a bad decision to drink alcohol while being under 21, in my opinion, the student shouldn't be punished when his or her actions served the greater good and may have saved a life.

Pennsylvania's Underage Drinking Good Samaritan Law

As of September of 2011, the Underage Drinking law, found in section 6308 of the Crimes Code, was amended to include a Good Samaritan exception to prosecution. Now, underage drinkers are able to contact medical assistance providers without fear of criminal prosecution for Underage Drinking if: 1) the police only became aware of the underage drinker because the drinker called medical services on behalf of another person, and the drinker believed that the medical attention was required to prevent death or serious injury; 2) the underage drinker believed that he was the first person to call for medical services; 3) the underage drinker provided his name to the medical services dispatcher; and 4) the underage drinker remained with the person that needed medical assistance until the need for assistance had ended.

To date, I have not heard of any instances of the Good Samaritan defense being asserted in a State College Underage Drinking case. Obviously, some officers from the State College or Penn State Police Departments may not file charges in a clear cut instance of the Good Samaritan exception, but I have not heard officers from those departments speak about instances either.

Interpret Good Samaritan Law to Promote Policy of Health and Safety

If the issue does arise during my time as a Penn State criminal defense attorney, I am hoping that the court will give the exception an expansive interpretation to further the policy. For example, the Good Samaritan law requires the person to provide their "name" to the medical dispatcher. What happens if the underage caller provides a first but not last name? What happens if the underage drinker begins to walk away as the ambulance personnel start rendering aid?

Hopefully in those situations, the judge would find that the underage drinker substantially complied with the requirements of the Good Samaritan law by providing a "name" and remaining at the scene long enough for medical assistance to arrive and thereby dismiss the charge of State College Underage Drinking. After the charge is dismissed, a Centre County expungement petition must be filed to have the government's record of the offense destroyed.

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