A conviction of underage drinking, purchase, or possession of alcohol can have serious legal consequences that will follow you into adulthood. Although the courts take these charges seriously, having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can make a difference. That’s where Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, comes in. If you or your child has been charged with one of these offenses, it’s important to take quick action now.
How North Carolina Treats Underage Drinking, Purchase, And Possession
Minors are not allowed to purchase, possess, or drink (consume) alcohol in North Carolina. For purposes of the criminal statutes, a minor is considered to be under the age of 21. These offenses are charged as misdemeanors, although the exact charge you will face depends on your age and the type of alcohol involved:
- Class 3 misdemeanor. If the offender is 19 or 20 years old, and consumes any alcoholic beverage or purchases or possesses malt beverage or unfortified wine.
- Class 1 misdemeanor. If the offender is 19 or 20 years old and purchases or possesses fortified wine, spirituous liquor, or mixed beverages. The charge also applies if the offender is 18 years old or younger and purchases, possesses or consumes any alcoholic beverage.
Possible Penalties For Underage Alcohol Offenses
Convictions for the above crimes may result in community service, probation, a fine, and a criminal record. Repeat offenders could be sentenced to jail time. A conviction could also subject you to disciplinary proceedings from your school or college. Meanwhile, a criminal record could make it difficult to secure a job or housing. The long-term consequences of an underage alcohol conviction should not be taken lightly.
Exceptions To The Law
North Carolina statutes do provide three exceptions to the laws which punish underage purchase, possession, and consumption of alcohol. A minor cannot be convicted of these offenses if one of the following applies:
- Sacramental purposes. A minor who possesses or uses fortified or unfortified wine for sacramental purposes, as part of an organized church or as overseen by an ordained minister, cannot be convicted. That includes any services held in public school buildings when approved by the local school board.
- Culinary purposes. Possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor, pursuant to a supervised culinary curriculum, is acceptable under the law. This is for established culinary classes at accredited colleges or universities where the individual under age 21 tastes or drinks alcohol as part of that class.
- Employment purposes. Selling, transporting, possessing, or dispensing alcoholic beverages is allowed by a minor if it’s in the course of his or her employment. The employment must be lawful under youth employment laws, and the establishment must follow all licensing requirements. It is not legal, however, for the minor to consume alcohol.
There are a number of other, similar offenses related to underage purchase, possession, and consumption of alcohol. One major charge concerns the use of fake identification. That could include any number of the following:
- A fraudulent driver’s license
- An altered driver’s license (e.g. the date of birth is altered)
- A state-issued identification card that’s fake or altered
- Using someone else’s valid driver’s license or other identification
- Misuse of any other form of identification to illegally obtain alcohol
Use or possession of a fake ID to purchase alcohol, or enter an establishment to do so, is a class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, a minor could face up to 120 days of community, intermediate, or active punishment, on top of a criminal record and problems in their personal or professional lives. If the minor used someone else’s identification or other information, they could also be charged with identity theft.
Another crime is called aiding and abetting. This is where a minor illegally helps another minor obtain alcohol, which is punishable as a class 2 misdemeanor. Of course, adults can also be charged with this crime. But they will be charged with a more serious class 1 misdemeanor.
Defenses To Underage Alcohol Offenses
It’s important to bear in mind that as with any criminal charges, including those involving underage alcohol purchase, possession, or drinking, the prosecution must prove each element. An arrest is not the same as a conviction, and there could be problems with the evidence. While it may be tempting to plead guilty, this could have long-term consequences. No matter the charge, talk with an experienced underage drinking and alcohol possession attorney.
If any of the above exceptions apply, your lawyer will put forth a defense that may include asking the charges to be dropped. The exceptions are narrowly tailored and fact-specific, and proving them could require input from witnesses or other testimony. But where they apply, we will use them to your advantage and defense.
Even though you’re a minor, you have certain constitutional protections from the prosecution’s actions. Any flaws in the prosecution’s evidence will be attacked, as will any improper methods of obtaining it. That means if the police lacked probable cause for the arrest, or there was any unlawful search and seizure, the case could be thrown out.
There may be mitigating circumstances in your case that could argue in your favor, especially if they have no prior criminal record. It is much easier to negotiate a reduced criminal penalty with the district attorney if the minor is facing a first-time offense. The sooner you speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, the better.
Contact Our Carteret County Underage Drinking And Alcohol Possession Attorney
North Carolina statutes are not the only factors in your case. Local criminal procedures and attitudes towards underage drinking, purchase, and possession of alcohol will also affect the outcome. You need a dedicated defense attorney who understands this, and who knows how to navigate the criminal justice system. Let Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, go to work for you today. Give us a call to schedule your confidential consultation.