Lack of Evidence that Vodka was Liquor

A Penn State police officer responded to a report of the odor of burning marijuana coming from a dorm room on the University Park campus. The officer arrived, knocked on the door, informed the occupants why he was there, and both roommates consented to a search of the room. During the search, the officer found a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia on one side of the room, and the officer found bottles of hard liquor in a bag on the other side of the room. One roommate was charged with misdemeanor drug offenses while the other was charged with Minor in Possession of Alcohol under 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6308. Regrettably, for the client, this was the second offense, so he was not eligible for any first-time offender programs. The penalties for a conviction of Underage Drinking increase because of the prior conviction, and the client was facing a 1-year license suspension. The client could not have a received a limited or “bread and butter” license for the 2nd offense for minor in possession of alcohol.

Attorney Jason S. Dunkle provided representation for the alcohol-related charge and appeared before a State College judge for a summary trial. At the court proceeding, the officer testified that he had found a bottle of Vodka, and the officer mentioned the brand name, which was, of course, a cheap variety that graces the shelves of many students at University Park, Altoona, and Lock Haven. The officer admitted that he had no evidence that the client had been drinking, and the charge of violating 6308 was based solely upon the possession of “liquor.” Upon conclusion of the testimony, Attorney Dunkle argued that the client must be found not guilty because the officer had failed to present sufficient evidence that the client had possessed “liquor.” In order to prove that the substance in the bottle was “liquor,” the officer needed to present evidence that the substance was .50% of alcohol by volume. The officer did not need to send the substance to a lab for testing but could have simply testified that the bottle was unopened, the seal was intact, and the volume noted on the bottle evidence that the liquid was .50% or greater of alcohol by volume. Such testimony would have been sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove that the client possessed “liquor” as prohibited by Pennsylvania law.

The officer’s oversight was a fatal flaw in the case as the State College judge found the client not guilty. A not guilty or dismissed charge remains on person’s government records in Pennsylvania unless expunged. Experienced Penn State expungement attorney Jason Dunkle filed an expungement petition with a Centre County court to have the criminal charge of Underage Drinking removed from the client’s records.