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.
I. Minimum Age Laws
II. More Alcohol Laws
IV. Get Legal Advice
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 the head of their school district certifies they have reached their “academic potential.”
The use of a false ID to buy alcohol is illegal. It’s also illegal for those under 21 to drive with any alcohol in their system. Their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) must be no higher than 0.00%.
II. More Pennsylvania Alcohol Laws
Pennsylvania’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.
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. That would probably outrage William Penn.
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 police who don’t want to breath-test everyone at the party. Unfortunately, this may discourage life-saving Designated Driving.
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.
Thus, setting the level at 0.02% reduces the chance of convicting innocent people.
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.
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 there’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%, jail 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.
The penalties for a second conviction for a BAC of 0.08% to 0.99% is jail 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%, jail 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 (IID) 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.
The penalties for a third conviction increase. For a BAC between 0.08% and 0.99% it’s jail 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 jail 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 IID 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.
The 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.
Field Sobriety Test
Note that this penalty 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.
It’s a violation of Pennsylvania alcohol laws to operate a boat with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. Conviction can result in jail and/or fines. In addition, there may be a suspension of the the operator’s license.
If the BAC is below 0.08%, an officer may arrest the operator for reckless or negligent operation of a vessel. Or for disorderly conduct, underage drinking, or some other charge.
The state punishes boat operators who use their Constitutional right to decline a BAC test. It suspends their operator’s license for one year. It may also falsely claim in court that the use of their right necessarily is evidence of guilt.
III. Resources on Pennsylvania Alcohol Laws
- State Code
- Legislative Information
- Supreme Court Opinions
- Superior Court (court of appeals) Opinions
- Attorney General Opinions
- Pennsylvania Bar Association
- Liquor Control Board
IV. Get Legal Advice on Drinking Laws in Pennsylvania
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. So don’t rely on this site. Nor on any other 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.
Get information and advice about Pennsylvania alcohol laws from an expert. That’s a lawyer with a license 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.