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Under 21? What Happens If You’re Caught Drinking

If you’re an underage drinker, you can face consequences related to alcohol in North Carolina, including misdemeanor charges, losing your driver’s license, and more. Learn what happens if you’re caught drinking under 21 and find out how to handle criminal charges related to alcohol.

Under 21 Drinking in North Carolina

North Carolina does not allow minors to consume alcohol under any circumstance legally. Other states may allow alcohol if parents allow it. However, North Carolina’s zero-tolerance policy means that you can face charges for drinking whether your parents or other adults allow it or not.

According to NC Law, it is not legal to purchase, possess, or drink alcohol if you are less than 21 years old. Even attempting to buy alcohol while underage is illegal in our state. Asking someone else who is old enough to buy alcohol for you can have consequences for both you and the person who buys it for you.

Criminal Charges

If you’re under 21 and law enforcement catches you buying, trying to buy, or possessing alcohol, you can face criminal charges. Under age 19, you face a Class 1 misdemeanor. If you are 19 or 20, you can face a Class 3 misdemeanor in North Carolina. (2)

Consequences for these misdemeanor criminal charges can include:

  • Fines issued by the judge up to $200
  • Community service
  • Jail time or $250 automatic fine
  • Court costs of approximately $200
  • Attorney fees
  • Alcohol education or treatment program
  • Losing your driver’s license for up to a year

Sentencing depends on the judge and your attorney’s skill to defend you. You don’t want to pay an underage drinking ticket or show up in court without an attorney to defend your actions. The court recognizes specific defenses that your attorney will understand how to prove. Bringing an experienced attorney to defend you may mean the difference between keeping or losing your driver’s license!

Types of Alcohol Charges for Underage Drinking in NC

You can face different kinds of charges related to alcohol as a minor. Some of the tickets you may receive include: 

  • Possession of alcohol
  • Attempting to buy alcohol
  • Consuming alcohol 
  • Buying alcohol
  • DWI


You can face alcohol possession charges if:

  • The alcohol is in your hand or on your body in a pocket, etc.
  • Nobody else had equal access to the alcohol
  • You had the intent to possess the alcohol

However, you can also face possession charges if:

  • Alcohol was in your vicinity (such as your car), and you can access the alcohol OR
  • Alcohol was somewhere that you and others knew about and could access

Buying or Attempting to Buy Alcohol

You’re committing a crime if you’re under 21 and go into a store to buy alcohol. Getting caught by law enforcement trying to purchase alcohol is a Class 1 misdemeanor. What sentence you face is up to the court. If convicted, the Division of Motor Vehicles revokes your driver’s license.


A DWI in North Carolina is a serious charge. If convicted, you can never expunge this crime from your record. The state will let you remove many non-violent misdemeanor-level crimes after a period of years. However, a DWI never leaves your record.

If you’re under 21 and the police catch you driving with any amount of alcohol in your system, you can face charges of driving after consuming alcohol. Since you’re under 21 years of age, you face charges regardless of whether you are actually impaired. This charge can also result in losing your license.

What to Do If Facing Underage Alcohol Charges

So what should you do if law enforcement catches you possessing or drinking alcohol while under 21 in North Carolina? The best thing to do is to speak to a defense lawyer who can help you understand your options and the best course of action for your particular situation.

An experienced attorney can defend you from charges in many ways depending on your situation. Some defenses include:

  • Law enforcement violated your rights
  • The alcohol didn’t belong to you
  • You didn’t realize the alcohol was alcoholic
  • Someone forced you to drink against your will
  • You were on private property
  • The officer had no cause to pull you over
  • A random traffic stop brought your DWI charges
  • You didn’t know alcohol was in your car
  • Law enforcement performed dubious tests to determine you were drinking

An experienced lawyer can help you navigate the complex legal system and give you the best chance at a positive outcome for your case. Depending on your criminal history, an attorney may be able to negotiate for you to go through a first offender program and have the charges dismissed and expunged. Especially if you’ve been charged before, reach out to an experienced attorney. If you or someone you know is facing underage alcohol charges, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

We Can Help

If you’re facing charges for drinking or possessing alcohol while under 21, contact our experienced defense attorneys at Scharff Law today for a free consultation. We investigate the allegations against you and find your best defense strategy. We often see first offenders get into a program that, once completed, dismisses the charges against you. Even if it’s not your first ticket, we can often help you find eligibility for a diversion or treatment program resulting in reduced or dismissed charges or fight the case at trial. Our professional legal team will work tirelessly to ensure your rights are protected every step of the way.