A charge of underage drinking, even one from many years ago, may pose a problem when someone is trying to get into college, win a scholarship or secure a job. Luckily, in most states, people can get underage drinking records expunged. Each state has its own laws and procedures regarding expungement.
Meaning of Expungement
The only way to completely clear a criminal record is to have it expunged. Expungement completely clears a criminal record and removes all information relating to it from the public record. It’s as if the charge never existed. Anyone can ask the court for expungement, provided they meet all the conditions set out in their state’s laws.
However, not all states have legislation relating to expungement. For example, it’s not possible to have a criminal record expunged in New York state (apart from certain marijuana charges). As an alternative, in some states, you can have the record sealed. While it has a similar effect, sealing does not completely erase the record. A sealed record is not readily available to the public, but it can still be “re-opened” by a court order.
Criteria for Expungement
The first step is to determine if your state offers expungement of an underage drinking charge. Next, an applicant must meet certain criteria before he can apply for expungement.
For instance, in Pennsylvania, a charge of underage drinking can be expunged provided one of two circumstances apply. Either the charges must have been dismissed, withdrawn, or the person was found not guilty, or, in the case of a guilty verdict, the person must have turned 21 years old and have successfully completed the sentence.
In New Jersey, a Minor in Possession charge (MIP), which comes under the category of a disorderly person’s offense, may be expunged after five years. However, if it’s downgraded to an ordinance offense, it may be expunged after two years.
Read More: How to File a Petition for Expungement
Procedure for Expungement
Each state has its own process for expungement, but in all cases, the process begins with an application to the court. Police criminal history records and fingerprint checks are required to gain all the information necessary about arrests, charges and dispositions. The correct application form must be completed and signed, then filed with the appropriate court. If the state charges a filing fee, the applicant must pay it at the time of filing.
The applicant may have to distribute copies of the expungement application to all government agencies that were involved with the case. In some states, expungement is not complete until the defendant has attended a hearing, at which time the court decides whether the underage drinking will be completely removed from her criminal record.
Dismissal of Underage Drinking Charge
Some states offer an alternative route to expungement of an underage drinking charge. In North Carolina, a first charge of underage possession of alcohol may be eligible for a dismissal (also known as a deferral). The defendant must be at least 16 years of age and can’t have any previous criminal convictions (either as a juvenile or an adult). If the defendant and the prosecutor agree to the dismissal and the judge approves, certain requirements must then be satisfied during the next six months, including the following:
- The defendant must admit guilt.
- The defendant must successfully complete any recommended alcohol education classes.
- The defendant must remain in school or be gainfully employed.
- The defendant must not be convicted of any misdemeanor or felony offense during the six-month period.
If all conditions are met, the alcohol charge will be dismissed at the end of the six-month period and will thereafter be eligible for expungement.
In Texas, if a charge of Possession of Alcohol by a Minor (an MIP charge) is dismissed, or if the defendant receives and completes a deferred disposition (probation), it’s possible to have the charge expunged. However, the defendant must be age 21 before applying for expungement.
- University of Colorado Boulder: Expungements and Sealings
- New York State Unified Court System: Sealed Criminal Records
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: Crimes Code Section 9122. Expungement.
- Kirk Kirk Law: Is Your Teen Charged With Underage Drinking?
- Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission: The Alcoholic Beverage Code Sections Referencing Minors
- Legal Services of New Jersey: A Six-Step Guide to Expunging Criminal Records in New Jersey
- New Jersey Courts: How to Expunge Your Criminal and/or Juvenile Record
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.