Many people are not aware that a conviction of Underage Drinking in Pennsylvania results in a mandatory suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. Many Penn State and Lock Haven students that are first-time offenders of Underage Drinking participate in a first-time offender program, like Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or the State College Youthful Offender Program (YOP), which allows the student to avoid a conviction, have the charge dismissed and then expunged from the criminal records. Participation in such programs normally results in the suspension of driving privileges. The suspension, set forth in 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6310.4 and 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1532(d), is 90 days for a first offense, 1 year for a second offense, and 2 years for a third and every subsequent offense. For more information about Underage Drinking charges in Pennsylvania, check out this State College defense lawyer's page.
In some cases, an experienced attorney may be able to obtain an alternative resolution that avoids the suspension, but such an agreement cannot be reached in every case. Also, not every attorney knows the law well enough to negotiate a resolution that gets a dismissal of the charge and avoids the license suspension. Some attorneys recommend that a person simply plead guilty to a charge of Disorderly Conduct to avoid the license suspension. The problem with such a resolution is that a conviction of a non-traffic summary offense like Disorderly Conduct can appear on a criminal background search. Whether or not avoiding a license suspension while putting a mark on a person's criminal record is a good deal depends upon the facts and circumstances of the case.
Double License Suspension in State College Underage Drinking Case
In the case of Hobson v. Department of Transportation, a Centre County judge recently had to consider whether or not a Penn State student that had served a 90-day suspension for an Underage Drinking charge when participating in ARD must serve a second 90-day suspension after the person was removed from the program and later pleaded guilty to the Underage Drinking offense. The State College criminal defense lawyer argued that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) should not be permitted to force the minor to serve a second suspension since only one criminal act or offense had been committed. Basically, the defense attorney was arguing that the second suspension simply was not fair. PennDOT is not concerned with fairness but is instead concerned with making the judge follow the law. Many people make the mistake of thinking that a PennDOT lawyer can negotiate suspension lengths. While a district attorney may negotiate criminal charges, a PennDOT lawyer is not permitted to negotiate suspensions. The PennDOT lawyers simply follow the law as it is written. People facing suspensions often get angry at PennDOT for imposing a suspension, but the people should instead be angry at their legislatures for passing laws that mandate the suspensions.
In this particular case, PennDOT argued that the fact that the student had served the suspension was not the issue, the fact that he was removed from ARD and later pleaded guilty to the charge mandated a second suspension. The Bellefonte judge reluctantly agreed with PennDOT. The removal from the ARD program placed the student back into the position of having a pending charge, and PennDOT is permitted to impose a second suspension after he pleaded guilty to the charge. The same thing occurs if a person is on ARD for a DUI charge. Participation in ARD for a drunk driving charge often results in a license suspension. If the person is removed from ARD and later pleads guilty to the driving under the influence offenses, PennDOT imposes another license suspension, and the person is not given any credit for the prior ARD suspension.
Unfair Laws Need Changed
Laws like this that are unfair need changed. It simply is not fair to suspend a person's license two times when they only committed one offense. I really do not think that there should be any suspension for Underage Drinking charges. The person was not behind the wheel of a car or posing a danger to another person. Does it make sense that a third-time offender of Underage Drinking gets a 2-year license suspension, but a third-time DUI offender gets an 18-month suspension? Is a minor drinking some alcohol really more heinous than a person driving drunk a third time? A student caught smoking marijuana in his or her Penn State dorm room faces a 6-month license suspension if it is a first offense, and a person convicted of drug possession cannot get an Occupational Limited License (OLL). A first-time offender of drunk driving faces a 12-month suspension but is eligible to receive an OLL after serving 60 days of a suspension. So the kid getting high in his room faces a stiffer penalty than the person that chose to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. These ridiculous laws are not PennDOT's fault; they are the fault of the people who wrote the laws.