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What is the Penalty for Possession of Alcohol Under 21?

If you are under 21 years of age and caught with alcohol in North Carolina, you could face some serious penalties. Possessing alcohol can result in fines, community service, and even jail time. Let’s take a closer look at what can happen if you face a penalty for possession of alcohol under 21 years of age.

Legal Drinking Age to Purchase Alcohol

In North Carolina, underage alcohol consumption or possession by those under 21 is always illegal. The legal alcoholic beverage drinking age in North Carolina is 21 years of age.

Minor in Possession (MIP) laws (also called underage drinking laws) are active in every state. However, North Carolina has one of the most rigorous alcohol laws in comparison to most states. Our state entirely prohibits underage possession or consumption. So if you imbibe anyway, you can easily find yourself with a criminal record without criminal defense lawyers on your side!

Despite any allowance from your parents or legal guardians, you cannot have an alcoholic beverage if you are under 21, according to NC’s penal code. There is no exception for drinking at home with your parents or on special occasions – the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .00% for anyone under 21.

Whether your parents allow it or not, you can face criminal prosecution for being a minor in possession of alcohol. This is one case where you need to understand the consequences before partaking.

Underage Drinking Laws in NC

You can face charges for having an open (or unopened) container of alcohol in a public place, even if you are not drinking it. If you are caught with alcohol in your possession, you can face fines, community service, and even jail time.

You may wonder what “possession” means. For example, let’s say your Mom asks you to run and pick up a fifth of vodka from Aunt Kelly for her party tonight. You figure it’s not like she is asking you to drink it. So you decide it’s not a big deal. You place the unopened bottle in your trunk and head home.

However, on the way, an officer stops you for weaving through traffic and searches your car for substances. You receive possession of alcohol charges for only having the alcohol in your possession. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been drinking it or not.

Having containers of alcohol in your car as an underage person in a public place is enough for criminal charges. Even though you weren’t actively consuming alcohol, you still face criminal charges.

 If you don’t mount a reasoned defense for breaking alcohol possession laws, you can face conviction for possessing alcohol or underage drinking. Your sentence depends on whatever the Court deems fair in your situation. However, penalties may include community service, time in jail, paying fines, and more.

Penalty for Possession of Alcohol Under 21

A person under the legal drinking age of 21 caught purchasing, attempting to purchase, or possessing alcohol can face Class 1 misdemeanor charges. 

An underage drinking charge when you possess alcohol can bring a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction, resulting in:

  • 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 program
  • If your assessment shows alcohol abuse, you may attend educational courses or even attend an in-patient program for medical purposes.
  • Driver’s license suspension for up to a year. The Division of Motor Vehicles revokes your driving privileges after a conviction.

In court, certain defenses can help you avoid conviction. However, it is essential to bring on an experienced attorney who understands how to present a strategic defense. If you are able to provide a persuasive case on your behalf with the help of counsel, there may be no need for you to part ways with your license!

A 19 or 20-year-old caught drinking or with public possession can face charges with a Class 3 misdemeanor. If found guilty, possible punishments include

  • Facing fines up to $200
  • Losing your driving privileges

Working closely with a defense attorney and getting the legal help you need can prevent conviction so that you avoid criminal penalties.

Providing Alcohol to Underage Drinkers

What if you’re selling alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age or who is found in possession of alcoholic beverages?

For the first offense of selling an alcoholic drink or if you provide alcohol for someone under 21 years of age who consumes alcohol, you’ll likely face:

  • $250 fine
  • $100 in court costs.
  • 25 hours of community service.

Along with expensive fines and court costs, those found guilty of disregarding the state alcohol laws may be barred from employment at a business that holds an ABC permit for two years post-conviction.

Not only are there legal consequences for letting someone underage borrow your ID to buy alcohol, but the DMV will also revoke your driver’s license if you’re convicted of this offense. (1)

A subsequent offense with conviction can bring stiffer consequences for aiding and abetting underage drinking, such as:

  • $500 mandatory minimum fine (third offense $1000)
  • Court costs
  • 25 hours of community service work
  • Prison time

Legal Defense Against Minor in Possession Laws

If you find criminal defense lawyers who focus on DWI, they understand the law surrounding underage drinking. There are several defenses available, whether you’re facing a first or second violation.

These criminal defense strategies include:

  • You did not consume alcohol, or you were drinking on private property. If the police cannot conclusively show you consumed alcohol, or that you were at a private residence, your lawyer may use this information for a successful defense.
  • Law enforcement didn’t have probable cause to pull you over for a traffic ticket when driving. Without a valid cause for stopping you, any evidence collected may not be accepted in a courtroom.
  • Officers did not read your Miranda rights. In this case, officers can’t use anything you said against you in court.

Be mindful of the words you use when speaking to law enforcement, as well as those around you. Refrain from discussing your violation with anyone but an attorney who is present to protect your rights – even family and friends could potentially make it look like you are guilty.

Our Experienced DWI Attorneys Can Help

If you’re facing a criminal record dealing with underage drinking laws, talk with our DWI attorney at Scharff Law. We provide the full legal support you need to get through your case and minimize any potential consequences.

We understand North Carolina alcohol laws and how they pertain to underage drinking cases. Our attorneys will work hard on your behalf so that you can move forward with minimal impact to your future. Contact us today for a free consultation, and let’s start finding a solution!