Good Samaritan Law and Pennsylvania Underage Drinking Charges

Pennsylvania law was changed in November of 2018 to expand the immunity from prosecution or Good Samaritan protections for underage drinkers that need medical assistance.  In the past, the person that called for medical assistance was often protected from prosecution, but the person that needed the medical assistance was not.  Now, if certain conditions are met, the caller AND the person needing medical assistance are immune from prosecution.  The law wants to encourage underage drinkers to get medical help from a friend without fearing that the caller will get him or herself into trouble.  The law, officially called “Safe Harbor,” is found at 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6308.1.

Requirements for Good Samaritan Immunity

In order to fall under the protection of the Good Samaritan law, the caller must follow certain rules.  In order for the person receiving medical assistance to be immune from prosecution, the caller must have followed the rules.  If the caller did not comply with the conditions, then the caller is not protected; and if the caller is not protected, then the person needing medical assistance is also not protected.  The caller shall not be prosecuted if he/she can show:

  1. that law enforcement or police only became aware of the underage drinking violation because the caller contacted 911, campus safety, or some other police or emergency services personnel
  2. he/she reasonably believed that he/she was the first person to seek medical assistance for a person to prevent death or serious injury
  3. he/she provided his/her name to the 911 operator, police, or emergency personnel
  4. he/she remained with the person needing medical assistance until emergency responders arrived

Limitations of the Good Samaritan Law

The Safe Harbor law only protects the caller and person needing medical assistance from Underage Drinking charges under 18 Pa.C.S. 6308.  Other alcohol-related criminal charges, such as a summary offense of Public Drunkenness or a misdemeanor offense of Furnishing Alcohol to Minor, can still be filed by the police.  underage drinking sentenceIf the police respond to the call for assistance and see marijuana or drug paraphernalia in plain view, misdemeanor possession charges of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia can be filed. While the caller may not be charged with a summary offense of Underage Drinking, the immunity protection does not insulate the caller from all criminal charges.

Charges May Be Filed

In many situations in which the applicability of the Good Samaritan exception applies, the police will not file an Underage Drinking charge under 18 Pa.C.S. § 6308. However, there are situations in which the protections do apply but the Underage Drinking charge is still filed.  Some officers are not familiar with the change in the law, and some officers may believe that the person charged is not eligible for the Safe Harbor protections.  Whether or not the protections apply must sometimes be determined by a judge.  State College defense attorney Jason S. Dunkle has been representing Penn State students charged with Underage Drinking since 2004 and has successfully argued the Good Samaritan exception protection to obtain a not guilty verdict or a dismissal of such charges.