When students head off to college for the first time, they are truly experiencing the freedom of adulthood. Because most college freshmen are not old enough to legally drink, however, the first week away at school coincides with a steep rise in underage drinking arrests.

If this situation sounds familiar, take these steps to protect your child’s future after he or she is charged with an alcohol-related crime.

Understand the penalties

 In Pennsylvania, those younger than 21 who receive an underage alcohol possession or consumption charge can face steep consequences even for the first offense. These penalties include a mandatory 90-day driver’s license suspension and fines starting at $500. Subsequent offenses carry license suspension for at least one year and fines starting at $1,000.

 

In addition, your child will have a permanent criminal record. This charge may cause issues with future graduate school and job opportunities.

Attend scheduled hearings

 Ignoring the charges is the worst course of action after an underage drinking arrest. Your child must attend the scheduled hearing and may bring a parent and/or criminal defense attorney. If your child misses a court date, the judge will issue an active warrant for arrest.

Your child’s college may also pursue disciplinary action. He or she should attend scheduled disciplinary hearings with legal representation.

Document the details

When the arresting officer does not follow proper procedure during an underage drinking arrest, the judge may drop the charges in court. Encourage your child to write down as much as he or she can remember about the incident. You should also share this information with a qualified criminal defense attorney, who may have follow-up questions.

Maintain good behavior

 If your child receives a subsequent charge for underage drinking or a related crime, penalties for both incidents significantly increase. Make sure your college student understands the importance of alcohol abstinence until age 21, especially while awaiting a pending court date.

Parents in this situation are right to worry about their child’s future. However, with the right approach, you can potentially limit the impact of an underage drinking charge.