Pennsylvania Alcohol Laws: Avoid Trouble with the Law

Pennsylvania alcohol laws apply to its residents and visitors alike. Its alcohol laws differ from those of other states. They’re prohibition-oriented. There’s a simple reason for this.

        Overview
I.   Minimum Age Laws
II.  Alcohol Violations
III. Resources
IV.  Seek Good Advice
At the end of Prohibition in 1933, the governor was a committed teetotaler. He strongly opposed Repeal. So he called a special session of the General Assembly. He got it to form the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. The purpose of the Board was simple. It was to discourage drinking alcohol “by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.”

Pennsylvania alcohol laws still reflect that purpose. The state has a government monopoly on the sale of distilled spirits. That’s whiskey, rum, tequila, gin, vodka, Scotch, rye, and all other spirits.

I. Minimum Age Laws

Some young people would like part-time jobs. Some involve work around alcohol. They want to know minimum ages. What is the age to be a bartender? To be a server in a venue selling alcohol to drink there? Or for selling alcohol in a venue to drink elsewhere?

The state’s alcohol laws permit adults to tend bar. That is, persons 18 or older. They may also serve in venues selling alcohol for consumption on-site.

Adults of the same age may sell alcohol in a venue for drinking off-premises. Persons aged 17 can tend bar, serve alcohol, or sell alcohol in off-premises sales locations under one of two conditions. The law considers them adults if they have graduated high school. Or if they are declared by the head of their school district to have reached their “academic potential.”

The use of a false ID to buy alcohol is criminalized. It’s also illegal in for those under 21 to drive with any alcohol in their system. Their BAC must be no higher than 0.00.

II. Alcohol Violations

Selling Alcohol

pennsylvania alcohol lawsPennsylvania’s government monopoly stores can sell from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, they can operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monopoly stores sell spirits and wine but not beer.

Only beverage distributors may sell beer in larger quantities. That’s cases and kegs of beer. However, they may not sell wine or spirits at all. They may not sell on Sunday without buying a special license. Even then, they may not sell before 11 a.m.

Restaurants, bars, and other retailers with licenses may sell beer and wine in smaller quantities. They may not sell more than 192 fluid ounces of beer per purchase. Nor may they sell more than four bottles of wine per purchase.

Restaurants and bars must close at 2 a.m. For private clubs, it’s 3 a.m.

Grocery and convenience stores may sell wine if they buy a license to do so.

Airports may sell alcohol by the glass from 5 a.m. Sports venues may to sell mixed drinks in shatterproof containers.

Purchasing Alcohol

pennsylvania alcohol lawsPennsylvania alcohol laws prohibit anyone under age 21 to buy, or attempt to buy, alcohol.

Most states permit those under 21 to drink alcohol under certain conditions. For example, as part of religious services, with parents, with a spouse, and so on. But in Pennsylvania it is even illegal to drink communion wine. Many think this violates religious freedom. William Penn might be outraged.

People under age 21 may also be convicted of illegal drinking even if they are abstaining Designated Drivers. This often occurs at parties. It’s for the convenience of officers who don’t want to breath-test everyone at the party. Unfortunately, this may discourage life-saving Designated Driving.

Driving

pennsylvania alcohol lawsPennsylvania prohibits anyone age 21 or older to drive with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.

For those under 21, including adults, it’s 0.02. It’s not 0.00 for several reasons. One is that breathalyzers are inaccurate. Another is that everyone’s body naturally produces alcohol. A third is that many medications, foods, and juices contain alcohol. For example, orange juice and milk easily form alcohol if stored too long a refrigerator.

Penalties

The penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) depends on the circumstances and the judge. However, the law provides ranges as well as mandatory penalties.

First Conviction

A first conviction for a BAC of 0.08 to 0.99. is six months probation and a $300 fine. If it’s between 0.10 and 0.159, the penalty is two days to six months imprisonment. The fine is between $500 and $5,000. And their’s a one-year driver’s license suspension. If the judge permits, it’s possible to have a restricted license after 60 days. For a BAC over 0.16, imprisonment is three days to six months and the fine is $1,000 to $5,000. And the driver’s license suspension is for one year. If the judge permits, it’s possible to get a restricted license after 60 days.

Second Conviction

pennsylvania alcohol lawsThe penalties for a second conviction for a BAC of 0.08 to 0.99 is imprisonment for five days to six months. The fine is $300 to $2,500 and the license suspension is one year. If the BAC is from 0.10 to 0.159, the imprisonment is 30 days to six months. The fine is $750 to $5,000. And the license suspension is for one year. For a BAC of 0.16 or higher, it’s prison for 90 days to five years. The fine is $1,500 and the license suspension is for 18 months.

Also, for all second convictions, offenders must pay for an ignition interlock device their vehicle for one year. This equipment makes it impossible to start the vehicle if there is alcohol in the driver’s breath. The judge may also order alcohol abuse treatment.

Third Conviction

The penalties for a third conviction for a BAC between 0.08 and 0.99 are prison for ten days to two years. The fine is $500- $5,000 and the license suspension is one year. For a BAC from 0.10 to 0.159, it’s prison for 90 days to five years. The fine is $1,500-$10,000. In addition, the license suspension is for 18 months.

A third conviction also requires an ignition interlock device for one year. And the judge may require alcohol abuse treatment.

Important is the fact that state law prohibits plea bargaining to an offense lower than DUI.

Constitutional Right

pennsylvania alcohol lawsThe U.S. Constitution gives everyone the right to refuse a BAC test. However, the state treats using that right as proof of guilt. Therefore, it punishes declining to take a test with a license revocation of one year. For using that right on a second occasion, the punishment is a revocation for 18 months.

Note that this does not apply to declining to take a field sobriety test. They are highly subjective and unreliable. In fact, almost one third of completely sober people fail. Therefore, DUI lawyers strongly recommend not taking them. They say to decline politely but firmly.

Boating

pennsylvania alcohol lawsThe possession of alcohol is prohibited on the land and water of all state parks. It’s also prohibited on many other waterways.

It’s a violation of Pennsylvania alcohol laws to operate a boat with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Conviction can result in imprisonment and/or fines. In addition, the operator’s license may be suspended.

If the BAC is below 0.08, an officer may arrest the operator with reckless or negligent operation of a vessel, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, or some other charge.

Boat operators who use their Constitutional right to decline a BAC test are punished. The state suspends their operator’s license for one year. It may also claim in court that the use of their right is evidence of guilt.

III. Resources on Pennsylvania Alcohol Laws

IV. Seek Good Advice

Pennsylvania alcohol laws can change. Their interpretation can change. County and local laws vary across the state. They, too, can change. Lawyers study law for years. It isn’t do it yourself. Do not rely on this site. Or on any site. The stakes are too high. And beware. Friends may give advice. Neighbors may give their views. Colleges may opine. And family may chime in. Smile and thank them. Then ignore what they say. It could be misleading.

pennsylvania alcohol lawsGet information and advice about Pennsylvania alcohol laws from an expert. That’s a lawyer licensed in the state. Pennsylvania’s drinking laws are highly variable and complex. Many are very local. For this reason, it’s a good idea to select an attorney who practices locally.

But the very best advice is this. Don’t drink and drive.