This is Penn State | Staying on the right side of the legal system

August 23, 2013 

Each day, the Penn State police department issues an email reporting its activity for the prior day on campus. Many times, the incidents are related to drugs and alcohol.

This spring, a consortium of tavern owners and municipal and university officials met to address State Patty’s Day, a student-declared day of drinking. Efforts to curtail the event are expected to continue.

But also new this year are higher fines targeting underage drinking and public drunkenness. Fines have increased for underage drinking from $300 to $500 for a first-time offender, and can be as high as $1,000 for a second offense.

Here’s what local police say they encounter most:

Driving under the influence

In Pennsylvania, the blood-alcohol legal limit is 0.08 percent. For those younger than 21, the state has a Zero Tolerance Law with a minimum blood-alcohol level of 0.02 percent.

Even if it’s your first DUI arrest, fines can run thousands of dollars, and you can expect to lose your driver’s license for 30 days to 18 months.

Most first-time offenders are eligible for a probationary program called ARD — Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. Those who complete the program, which lasts about a year, can apply to have charges expunged from their records.

If you get ARD and are charged with DUI again within 10 years, however, that first DUI charge will count against you when you are sentenced again.

A second DUI offense carries a sentence of five to 90 days in jail.

Underage drinking and other summary offenses

You must be 21 to legally purchase or consume alcohol in Pennsylvania.

From an underage consumption arrest, think of summary citations such as a traffic ticket, but more serious — they carry a fine, as mentioned above, and no jail time, but a judge can impose community service or counseling as part of the sentence.

Urinating in public, acting disorderly, being drunk in public and underage drinking can all carry fines.

In 2008, state law changed to allow summary citations to be expunged from your record after five years — but only if you have one offense. Any more than that and the charges stick to your record like any other crime.

Fighting

This is a crime police often see when alcohol is involved. If you can’t keep your hands to yourself, you could be looking at time in the county jail.

Causing serious bodily injury to someone is aggravated assault and could land you behind bars for three to 20 years if you are convicted.

For simple assault, a less serious offense, you could get probation, but some are sentenced to time in the county jail.

In many cases in which a single punch is thrown, charges may be reduced to harassment citations that result in fines.

Drug use or possession

Whether you are caught passing a joint or with a smoking pipe in your pocket, police take possession of illegal drugs seriously.

Cases involving possession of personal amount of marijuana, or of devices used for smoking, often end with ARD or probation.

But those caught dealing drugs, even just passing something to a friend, can be charged with a felony and sentenced to a mandatory two years in state prison under a state law passed to discourage selling near schools, including universities.

Much of downtown State College and all of the University Park campus are in a school zone under the law.

Sexual assault

Many times, those accused of sexual assault say alcohol was involved. Some say they can’t remember what happened or that they think the sex was consensual.

Under state law, however, an intoxicated person cannot legally give consent.

Many sexual assault cases end with plea agreements that still call for county jail time, and a charge of indecent assault or aggravated indecent assault on your record.

Office of Student Conduct

In addition to legal charges from these and other crimes, the university’s Office of Student Conduct can hand down its own punishment.

Punishments from the Office of Student Conduct can range from a warning or mandated counseling to suspension and expulsion.

— From CDT staff reports

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