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, th

e 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 Immunity from Underage Drinking Prosecution

In order to fall under the protection of the Safe Harbor or 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 requirements, then the caller is not protected; and if the caller is not protected, then the person needing medical assistance is also not protected.  The Safe Harbor law states that 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 protections are limited to Underage Drinking or Possession of Alcohol by a Minor 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.  If the police respond to the call for assistance and see marijuana, controlled substances, or drug paraphernalia in plain view, misdemeanor possession charges for possession or felony offenses for Possession With Intent to Deliver can, and normally will be, filed.  While the caller may not be charged with a summary offense of Underage Drinking, the immunity protection does not prevent the filing of other criminal charges.

Charges May Be Filed

While the immunity from prosecution law is clear in what is required for immunity to apply, there will be cases in which an officer does not believe that the protections apply, so an Underage Drinking charge is 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.  In January of 2019,  State College defense attorney Jason S. Dunkle successfully argued his first Safe Harbor case.  The judge agreed with Attorney Dunkle’s argument that Safe Harbor applied to the situation and thereby found the Penn State student not guilty.

Any person charged with Underage Drinking or other criminal offense should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.  Attorney Dunkle has been representing people charged with criminal offenses since 2004 and offers free consultations.  JD Law is located in downtown State College, so within walking distance of the University Park Campus of Penn State University.  Submit a request online or call the office at 814-954-7622 to schedule a case review.