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Can You Go To Jail For Drinking Under 21?

In North Carolina, the law takes a firm stance against underage drinking. As a minor, the mere possession of alcohol in your presence can set off a chain of legal repercussions. But can you go to jail for drinking under 21?

This blog delves into the consequences you can face if authorities catch you underage with alcohol. We’ll examine potential penalties, including the stark reality of whether jail time is on the table in North Carolina.

Underage Drinking Laws in North Carolina

Navigating the legalities of alcohol consumption in North Carolina can be pretty straightforward: if you’re under 21, it’s a no-go.

The state upholds the federal legal drinking age with a firm hand, particularly emphasizing the Zero Tolerance Law for underage drivers. This means that any detectable amount of alcohol in the system of a driver under 21 can lead to serious legal consequences.

If you’re under 21 and you’re caught with alcohol, whether you’re trying to buy it, hold it, or have already had a sip, North Carolina law doesn’t take it lightly.

This law is codified under G.S. 20-138.3, which details the prohibition of driving by persons less than 21 years old after consuming alcohol or drugs.

What Is an Underage Drinking Charge?

In North Carolina, an underage drinking charge is a serious legal issue that can have lasting consequences for young individuals. 

The state enforces the Zero Tolerance policy, which means that any person under the age of 21 found in possession of alcohol can face significant legal repercussions.

Under North Carolina General Statute § 18B-302, it is unlawful for any person under the age of 21 to:

  • Purchase alcohol
  • Attempt to purchase alcohol
  • Possess alcoholic beverages

Violating this statute can result in various charges, depending on the nature of the alcohol-related offense.

For instance, merely possessing alcohol as a minor is typically charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor. This is a criminal offense that can carry penalties, including fines, community service, and potentially even jail time.

Furthermore, if an underage individual is caught attempting to purchase alcohol, they can be charged under the same statute, which could lead to similar penalties. The law is clear that any attempt to circumvent the legal age for alcohol consumption is serious.

In addition to possession and attempt to purchase, consumption of alcohol by a minor is also illegal under the same statute. This means that if an underage person is found consuming alcohol, they can be charged with a misdemeanor, facing the same potential penalties as possession.

It’s important to note that while these are the standard charges and penalties associated with underage drinking, the specific circumstances of an incident can lead to different or additional charges.

Penalties for Possession of Alcohol Under 21 in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the laws concerning underage drinking are among the strictest in the United States.

Anyone under 21 found possessing alcohol may face Class 1 misdemeanor charges, with potential consequences that include fines, community service, and even jail time.

Specifically, a person under the legal drinking age caught purchasing, attempting to purchase, or possessing alcohol can encounter various penalties:

  • Fines up to $200 as determined by a judge
  • Community service requirements
  • Possible jail time or an automatic fine of $250
  • Court costs around $200
  • Attorney fees
  • Mandatory participation in an alcohol education program
  • Potential driver’s license suspension for up to a year if convicted
  • Potential hunting license suspension

It is crucial to note that in North Carolina, no exceptions exist for underage consumption or possession, regardless of parental consent or the location of consumption, such as private property. However, at age 19 or 20, the rules are a bit different, as we will see next.

Class 3 Misdemeanor Charges for Those 19 or 20 years old

For those aged 19 or 20, the law stipulates that being caught drinking or possessing alcohol in public can lead to Class 3 misdemeanor charges.

The associated penalties might include fines up to $200 and loss of driving privileges. However, being caught drinking underage while driving is another matter entirely. Keep reading for the consequences of deciding to drink alcohol and then getting in a car.

Long-Term Consequences of an Underage Drinking Charge Conviction

The long-term implications of an underage drinking charge can also be significant. A criminal record can affect future employment opportunities, educational prospects, and even housing options. It’s crucial for young individuals to understand the gravity of underage drinking charges and to seek legal guidance if faced with such a situation.

Underage drinking charges in North Carolina are not to be taken lightly. They carry the weight of criminal misdemeanors and can have lasting impacts on a young person’s life. It’s essential for minors and their families to be aware of the laws and to understand the importance of adhering to the legal drinking age.

The repercussions can range from fines to community service, and in some cases, it can escalate to misdemeanor charges with jail time. This is especially true if underage drinking results in an accident, causing injury or property damage.

Caught Drinking and Driving Underage?

When it comes to driving, the state adheres to a zero-tolerance policy. This means that the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for anyone under 21 is .00%. Any detectable amount of alcohol can result in charges.

If underage drinking is associated with driving, you can face DWI charges in addition to underage drinking and driving charges, as outlined in G.S. § 20-138.3.

For instance, let’s say an underage drinking incident leads to an injury that’s serious but not life-altering. Under G.S. 113-290.1(a)(2), this could result in a Class 1 misdemeanor.

And if there’s property damage involved, you might also be looking at restitution payments.

The law takes a harsher stance if an individual’s actions while impaired lead to more severe consequences, such as disfigurement or permanent disability of another person, as highlighted in G.S. 113-290.1(a)(3).

It’s not just about the immediate legal fallout, either. For those who enjoy hunting, a conviction can mean a temporary goodbye to your hunting license, with suspensions ranging from one to five years, depending on the severity of the offense (G.S. 113-290.1(c)).

The takeaway here is simple: underage drinking carries weighty legal and personal consequences in North Carolina. It’s not just about the present moment; it’s about how a charge can impact your future opportunities. So, it’s wise to think twice, stay on the right side of the law, and always seek legal counsel if you face charges.

Providing Alcoholic Beverages to Minors

Providing alcohol to minors is another serious charge under North Carolina law. According to G.S. § 18B-302(a1), it is unlawful for any person to aid or abet a person under 21 years old in purchasing or attempting to purchase any alcoholic beverage.

The penalties for aiding and abetting can be severe, including fines and jail time, reflecting the state’s commitment to deterring the provision of alcohol to underage individuals.

For those providing alcohol to minors, the penalties increase with subsequent offenses. A first offense can bring a $250 fine, $100 in court costs, and 25 hours of community service. Further violations can result in a $500 minimum fine. A third offense can bring the fine to $1000 in addition to court costs, community service, and potential prison time.

Defenses Against Minor in Possession Charges

Defending against underage drinking charges can involve various strategies, such as demonstrating that you didn’t consume the alcohol or that you were on private property.

Challenging the probable cause for a traffic stop and whether law enforcement read your Miranda rights are also common defenses.

Consulting with a defense attorney who has a deep understanding of DWI and underage drinking laws is critical for navigating these charges. A skilled lawyer may help negotiate a favorable outcome, such as participation in a first-offender program, which could lead to dismissal and expungement of the charges.

An Experienced Underage Drinking Lawyer Can Help

At Scharff Law, we understand the stress and uncertainty that comes with facing an underage drinking charge. It’s a situation that can feel overwhelming for both the young person involved and their family. That’s where the value of experienced legal counsel comes in. Our team is well-versed in North Carolina’s underage drinking laws and the nuances of the legal system in the Triangle area.

We believe that one mistake shouldn’t define a young person’s future. Our approach is to provide a robust defense that considers the individual circumstances of each case. We work tirelessly to protect your rights and obtain fair treatment under the law.

From the moment you engage our services, we’re committed to guiding you through the legal process with clarity and support. We help you understand the charges you face, the potential consequences, and the legal options available to you.

Whether negotiating for reduced penalties, seeking alternative sentencing options, or fighting the charges in court, our goal is to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients.

If you or a loved one is facing an underage drinking charge, don’t navigate these legal waters alone. Let Scharff Law be your advocate and ally. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your case and learn how we can help.