The Penn State alcohol policy has been an abject failure. Irresponsible and excessive alcohol consumption appear to be at an all-time high in Happy Valley, yet attempts to curtail drinking have only made things worse. So how did we get to a place where Mount Nittany Medical Center can expect alcohol overdoses every weekend and underage drinking an public drunkenness charges clog the local magisterial district courts? The sad reality is that Penn State's alcohol policies have had the unintended consequence of encouraging students to drink hard liquor instead of beer.
Penn State has long resisted alcohol sales at Beaver Stadium, but as universities search for new revenue streams, the trend is moving towards college-stadium beers sales, just as pro-stadiums have done for as long as anyone can remember. In May of this year, Penn State announced that it would allow beer and wine sales in the hoity-toity suites and club seats, while the masses would have to get their drink on the old fashioned way in the Beaver Stadium parking lots. In 2015, Ohio State took the exact same segregated alcohol sales approach, but in 2016, all of Buckeye Nation will be able to drink beer in the stadium, not just the well-heeled in club seats.
It is no secret that Penn State is a world class party school. Like a powerful gravitational force, this reputation attracts ever more students who like to party, perpetuating Happy Valley's status as the number one party destination in Pennsylvania for the under 25 set. But even Penn State has three sober weekends during the school year, with very few DUIs or other alcohol-related charges like underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct or criminal mischief. These quiet weekends include the weekends before Fall and Spring finals as well as THON weekend. Some students, especially seniors, do not have any finals, so finals weekend is for celebrating, while very few students get rowdy on THON weekend.
Lost amid the jubilation over the repeal of the so-called "Consent Decree" is the effect that last week's settlement of the Corman-McCord lawsuit against the NCAA will have upon possible criminal charges against certain NCAA officials. As I previously noted in a blog post last November, members of the Mark Emmert Gang look pretty damn guilty of the crimes of theft by extortion and criminal conspiracy to commit theft by extortion as defined by the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. Pursuant to its own by-laws, the NCAA did not have the legal authority to impose sanctions, yet threatened to impose the death penalty or other sanctions against Penn State anyway unless Penn State forked over a significant sum of money and forfeited property rights. This looks like a pretty cut and dried case of theft by extortion to me and most other lawyers I have talked to, including some prosecutors. By contrast, if Penn State had actually broken NCAA rules, giving the NCAA the right to impose appropriate sanctions, then the NCAA's actions would be part and parcel of good faith negotiations with Penn State. Thus, there would be no crime.
With Senator Jake Corman and Treasurer Rob McCord's lawsuit against the NCAA now in the discovery phase, emails have been uncovered, which are very embarrassing to the NCAA. It now appears that NCAA officials privately acknowledged in internal emails that the NCAA did not have the authority to sanction Penn State. This conclusion is not at all surprising, given the fact that the university had not broken any NCAA rules, and in the past, criminal matters had always been handled exclusively by the criminal justice system.
I am a hardcore Penn State football fan, and it appears that only we ultras seem to care enough about position battles, player evaluations and the new coaching staff's schemes to venture into Beaver Stadium to actually watch the game. For the casual fans and those not even into football, the Blue and White Game has become a major springtime holiday in Central Pennsylvania. It celebrates the return of warm weather by "tailgating," which can mean anything from elaborate outdoor feasts to standing in the parking lot drinking cheap beer.
Even though there is no chance that Penn State can lose, not everyone will leave the Beaver Stadium parking lots happy. The nicer the weather, the greater the number of alcohol-related summary offense citations like underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief, not to mention far more serious misdemeanor charges like DUI, simple assault and resisting arrest. Wherever there is a large concentration of people drinking, there will be a certain percentage of people who fail to drink responsibly.
But not everyone charged with an alcohol-related offense was necessarily out of control or obnoxious. For Penn State, State College and Pennsylvania State Police, handing out underage drinking citations around Beaver Stadium is like shooting fish in a barrel, and a lot of these young people do not even get a chance to finish their first drink before being hassled by the Man. If you look young, and are holding a beer or even a red plastic cup, the police are going to check your ID. Obviously, there are so many underage drinkers at a Penn State game that only a tiny fraction of young people will be cited, but small percentage of a very large number is still a lot of people.
I understand that the lure of partying is far stronger for most people than an inter-squad scrimmage game with interest only to football nerds like me, but if you are not going into the game, you really should not drink around Beaver Stadium if you are under 21. Normally, when people commit a crime, they at least try not to get caught. Drinking in a public place in broad daylight in an area patrolled by hundreds of cops simply invites trouble.
If you are charged with underage drinking or any other alcohol-related offense, it is important to talk to a local criminal defense lawyer, who knows the cops, judges and the local rules of criminal procedure. Even if you are factually guilty, an attorney can often find ways to mitigate your damages, such as assuring that you escape without a criminal conviction on your record.
Matt McClenahen is a Penn State alumnus and State College criminal defense lawyer, whose office is a five minute walk from campus. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Alcohol-Offenses-DUI.shtml
Zayd Issah, an erstwhile highly touted linebacker in the 2013 Penn State recruiting class, has accepted a favorable plea offer, which will spare him a violent felony conviction and additional jail time. During Arts Fest in downtown State College last summer, Issah was involved in an altercation with police, leading to two counts of aggravated assault on police officers, one count of simple assault, five counts of resisting arrest and one count of possession of small amount of marijuana for personal use. Pursuant to the plea agreement accepted by Judge Pamela A. Ruest of the Centre County Court of Common Pleas, Issah pled guilty to simple assault, resisting arrest and possession of a small amount of marijuana for a sentence of five days to 23.5 months. Issah previously served five days before posting bail, so he will serve additional jail time in this case only if he violates parole.
It turns out that the founder and operator of the "Silk Road" website, which had frustrated law enforcement for the past several years, has a masters degree from Penn State. Ross Ulbricht, who earned a masters in material science and engineering from Penn State in 2010, was arrested yesterday in San Francisco on a variety of federal charges related to his operation of Silk Road, as well as charges related to a murder for hire plot, in which Ulbricht allegedly sought the murder of someone who was trying to extort money form him, and an employee to had defrauded Silk Road users out of a substantial amount of money.
As a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, I can tell you that we see a greatly reduced call volume following a Penn State THON Canning Weekend. Any local police officer will tell you that Canning Weekends are a welcome break. Although only a minority of students go Canning, there is a reduction in crime far out of proportion to the number of students who leave Happy Valley. The biggest reduction in crime we see is in alcohol-related offenses like underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and DUI.
On its face, it would appear that serving beer inside Beaver Stadium during Penn State football games would be throwing gasoline onto a fire. How could granting access to even more alcohol than the countless gallons of booze already guzzled in the Beaver Stadium parking lots possibly reduce the number of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct charges? As it turns out, serving beer in stadiums may be the classic example of the counter-intuitive approach being the best approach.