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Can You Get Arrested for Underage Drinking in NC?

Understanding the laws around underage drinking is essential, especially for young people and their parents. In North Carolina, the regulations are complex, making it vital to know what actions can lead to legal consequences. In this blog, we ask, “Can You Get Arrested for Underage Drinking in NC?”

As we delve into the specifics of underage drinking laws in NC, we’ll cover what activities result in arrest, how to mount a successful defense, and what penalties you can face as an underage drinker. If you’re a young adult facing charges or considering drinking and driving, here’s the information you need.

Underage Drinking Laws in North Carolina: Legal Drinking Age

The minimum legal drinking age in North Carolina is set at 21 years old. If you are under 21, the law prohibits you from purchasing, possessing, or consuming alcoholic beverages.

Any attempt to purchase alcohol can lead to legal consequences for you and anyone who assists in providing alcohol to you.

Penalties can include fines, community service, or mandatory participation in an alcohol education or treatment program, depending on the circumstances and severity of the offense.

Consuming Alcohol

North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 18B, section § 18B states it is unlawful for a person less than 21 years old to consume any alcoholic beverages of any kind, including:

  • Unfortified wine or fortified wine during a religious ceremony OR
  • Unfortified wine, fortified wine, or spirituous liquor given to and provided by their parent or legal custodian. Even within your own home and with your parent’s permission and supervision, it is illegal to drink alcoholic beverages as a minor.

Legal Consequences for Possessing Alcoholic Beverages or for Drinking Alcohol as a Minor

A minor can face legal charges for drinking alcohol in North Carolina are described in §18B-302. These laws state that if you are:

  • Less than 19 years old but at least 13 years old, you can face Class 1 misdemeanor charges for possessing or drinking alcohol.
  • Less than 13 years old, you can face delinquency proceedings under Chapter 7B of the General Statutes.
  • 19 or 20 years old, possessing or drinking beer or wine is a Class 3 misdemeanor. If you face conviction, you can also receive a fine of up to $200 and lose your driver’s license. (1)

If you’re under 21, trying, buying, or possessing fortified wine, hard liquor, or mixed drinks is illegal. Even a violation occurring while you purchase or attempt to purchase an alcoholic beverage can bring a driver’s license revocation.

However, the consequences for an underage drinking charge may include all of the following and more:

  • Revocation of Driver’s License
  • Fines
  • Attorney Fees
  • Court Fees
  • Hours of community service
  • Jail time
  • Expulsion or suspension from schools and universities
  • License suspension

It is up to the DA or judge to decide what penalties you deserve as a minor possessing or engaging in alcohol consumption.

Helping Others Break the Law

If you’re under the legal age to buy alcohol and help someone else break this law, you could be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor.

It’s also illegal to try to get alcohol by using a fake or altered ID, someone else’s driver’s license, or someone else’s identification document.

Defenses Against Possession of Alcohol and Drinking Alcoholic Beverages as a Minor

In North Carolina, laws around the possession and drinking of alcoholic beverages by minors are clear and strictly enforced. However, legal statutes provide certain defenses that can be used in specific circumstances.

The law does not prohibit an underage person from handling alcohol as part of their job, provided it’s within the bounds of youth employment statutes and Commission rules. This includes, as part of legal employment, actions like

  • Selling alcohol
  • Transport alcohol
  • Possess alcohol
  • Dispense alcohol

It is essential to recognize that legal defenses are specific and limited in scope.

They do not grant a free pass to minors for the possession or consumption of alcohol. Ultimately, it is up to the DA or judge handling your case as to what to do with your charges.

That’s why consulting with a legal professional knowledgeable about the local laws is your best course of action. Understanding the specific details and context of the legal statutes to protect your rights is crucial.

Defenses Against an Underage DWI

Underage drinking charges become more serious criminal charges when a motor vehicle is part of the equation. If you drink alcohol and drive as a minor, you could lose driving privileges, spend time in jail, and face fines and a criminal record. Depending on your age during the underage drinking and DWI charges, you can face a lifelong criminal record that cannot be expunged.

Any amount of alcohol, even a blood alcohol content of .01, can bring a “driving after consuming being under 21” charge as a minor. So you’ll need an excellent defense to help you navigate the judicial system.

Challenging the Evidence: One defense might involve questioning the accuracy of the blood alcohol content testing methods or the procedures followed during the arrest. Errors in equipment or improper handling by law enforcement could result in the evidence being thrown out.

Questioning the Traffic Stop: Another defense might focus on whether the police had a valid reason for stopping the vehicle in the first place. If the stop was unlawful, it might be possible to have the charges dismissed.

Exploring Diversion Programs: In some jurisdictions, minors facing a DWI charge or “Driving after consuming being under 21” charge, might be eligible for diversion programs. These programs often involve education, counseling, and community service, and successful completion could result in reduced penalties or even dismissal of the charges.

However, it’s essential to note that defending against an underage DWI is a complicated legal matter. It requires understanding specific state laws and how the local courts operate. Engaging a knowledgeable attorney familiar with the jurisdiction is usually the best action. They can carefully review the case details and develop the most effective defense strategy tailored to the individual situation.

An Experienced DWI Defense Attorney Can Help

At Scharff Law, we understand the complexity and gravity of facing an underage DWI charge and underage alcohol possession charges. Our team is committed to providing personalized legal guidance, exploring every avenue of defense, and working diligently to protect your rights. 

We recognize the lifelong impact that these charges can have, especially for young individuals, and we’re here to support you every step of the way.

If you or a loved one is facing an underage DWI charge or underage alcohol possession in North Carolina, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a confidential consultation. We’ll help you navigate the legal system with confidence and strive to achieve the best possible outcome for your situation.