An Overview of Underage Drinking Laws in North Carolina

Underage Drinking

Young people will often seek out alcohol well below the legal drinking age of 21. Whether someone under 21 gets caught buying beer with a fake ID, apprehended by the police at a keg party, or pulled over behind the wheel after drinking, there are many scenarios that can involve criminal consequences for underage drinking. In this article, we will try to address the common scenarios that arise in underage drinking under North Carolina law.

Possessing, Purchasing, or Consuming Alcohol

Under N.C.G.S. § 18B-302(b), it is illegal for a person less than 21 years old to purchase, attempt to purchase, or possess beer, wine, liquor, or mixed beverages. This is the most common scenario charged when it comes to underage drinking. It could be that a party was broken up by the local police, or that an Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) officer waited outside a liquor store to catch underage purchasers. Offenders are often caught red-handed in this situation… sometimes literally if using a traditional Solo cup. Officers will usually only press charges for this law when the alcohol in question is in actual possession; meaning that the underage possessor had the item on their person. While the state can still try to prove someone possessed alcohol in other ways, even if they were not carrying it, that usually is not worth the trouble in court. If someone underage even attempts to purchase alcohol and never possesses it, they are still punished equally under this law.

Violation of this law is punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor if under the age of 19, and a Class 3 misdemeanor for those if 19 or 20 years old. These types of misdemeanors usually involve court costs and fines that can total up to $200 or more. Classes are available for first-time offenders to earn a dismissal but for any repeat offender, other punishments are available, including jail time.

It is also illegal to consume any alcoholic beverage, but proving this for law enforcement can prove difficult. Sometimes officers carry portable breath testing devices (PBTs) that they can use to determine the presence of alcohol on someone’s breath. If an underage person agrees to blow into the device, that could be used in court to determine whether they consumed any amount of alcohol.

Sale of Alcohol

Under N.C.G.S. § 18B-302(a)-(a1), it is illegal to sell or give any beer, wine, liquor, or mixed beverages to anyone less than 21 years old. Violation of this law is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can carry a suspended sentence of up to 45 days in jail for a first-time offender. The first commission of this offense involves an automatic fine of at least $250 and the completion of at least 25 hours of community service. The second offense within four years for this activity is punishable by at least a $500 fine and the completion of at least 150 hours of community service.

These are no small penalties, but there are available defenses under the law reserved for sellers of alcohol. If the underage person produced a real ID of a legal age that looked reasonably like them or can produce facts that indicate at the time of sale that the purchaser was the required age, then that can be a defense against a violation. But only an experienced attorney can successfully argue these defenses in a courtroom.

Aiding and Abetting Underage Drinking

Under N.C.G.S. § 18B-302(c) any underage person who aids or abets another to purchase, possess, consume, give, or sell alcohol is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. If that person is of legal drinking age, the penalty increases to a Class 1 misdemeanor. Aiding or abetting means providing any measure of assistance to those actions or helping to facilitate them. Those terms are often widely construed in court and judges can find that many types of activity aid in underage drinking.

For people of legal age, aiding and abetting underage drinking can have serious consequences. The first offense will bring at least a $500 fine and at least 25 hours of community service. For a second offense within 4 years, if the offender is not sentenced to time in jail, they will receive a sentence of at least a $1000 fine and completion of at least 150 hours of community service. This means that if you are thinking about being the “cool” parents by providing a safe space for young people to drink, there could be serious legal consequences involved.

Fake ID’s

Under N.C.G.S. § 18B-302(e), anyone who presents a fraudulent or altered driver’s license or ID or anyone who presents another’s license or ID as their own is also guilty of an additional class 1 misdemeanor. Being caught creating those documents can bring additional felony charges, which are very serious and can cause potentially permanent damage to an underage person’s criminal record.

Driver’s License Consequences

There is a one-year driver’s license revocation pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 20-17.3 for anyone who:

  • uses a fake ID to purchase alcohol or allows their fake ID to be used
  • aids or abets an underage drinker
  • purchases or attempts to purchase alcohol underage
  • gives alcohol to an underage person

This can result in serious consequences like losing a job or the ability to care for family and loved ones. This is one of the key reasons that even underage people should seriously consider hiring a lawyer that can help rather than just trying to resolve these matters alone.

Underage Driving While Consuming Alcohol

Finally, under N.C.G.S. § 20-138.3 it is illegal for any person under the age of 21 to drive a motor vehicle on a public street or highway with any alcohol at all remaining in their body. This law is separate and distinct from a DWI and can be charged in addition to DWI or by itself if the underage person is not impaired. A conviction for this offense is a class 2 misdemeanor and punishment will result in a driver’s license revocation of one year. Under certain circumstances, an underage driver may qualify for a limited privilege to continue driving. But that process is complicated and needs a lawyer’s help.

We Can Help with Your Underage Drinking Issue

Have you or your child been charged with any of the offenses in this article? Our experienced team of dedicated lawyers will fight for you in court. We know that while these charges seem common, they can carry punishments and penalties that can change people’s lives from driving revocations to permanent criminal records. We are here for you and we can help get these charges diverted or dismissed in many circumstances. So call the attorneys at Jetton and Meredith today at (704) 931-5535 today!