North Carolina Minor in Possession of Alcohol: Laws & Penalties

A minor in North Carolina may not purchase, possess, or consume alcohol with few exceptions (see below). (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(b).) It is also illegal for anyone to sell or give alcohol to a minor; or to otherwise help a minor to obtain alcohol. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(a)(a1)&(c).)

A minor may not use fraudulent or altered identification (or someone else’s identification) to enter an establishment licensed to sell alcohol; or to induce the sale or service of alcohol. An adult is also prohibited from allowing a minor to use the adult’s identification to obtain alcohol. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(e)&(f).)

Aiding or abetting. Minors who illegally help another minor to obtain alcohol can be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(c)(1).) Adults who illegally assist a minor in obtaining alcohol-- including allowing the minor to use the adult’s driver’s license or other identification to obtain alcohol—can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(c)(2)&(f).)

Purchase, possession, or consumption by a minor who is 19 or 20. This type of violation is a Class 3 misdemeanor. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(i).)

Exceptions to the Rule

North Carolina recognizes three exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing or consuming alcohol.

  • Religious participation. A minor may possess and consume wine for sacramental purposes in an organized church. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-103(8).)
  • Employment. Minors may possess, transport, or dispense—but not consume—alcohol during the course of employment in an establishment licensed to sell alcohol. Such employment must also be lawful under North Carolina’s youth employment statutes. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(h).)
  • Education. Minors may possess and consume alcohol under the direct supervision of an instructor, during the course of a licensed and accredited culinary program, when such consumption is a required part of the curriculum. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-103(11).)

Penalties

Minors who violate the laws against purchase, possession, or consumption; and adults who violate the law against giving alcohol to a minor or allowing a minor to use the adult’s identification to obtain alcohol, will face charges of a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries the consequences described below.

Convicted offenders will also have their conviction reports sent to the Division of Motor Vehicles. The division will revoke the offender’s license for one year. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 20-17.3.) If the offender’s license is already suspended, the one year revocation will begin when the current suspension ends.

Adult violators who gave alcohol to a minor or aided a minor in obtaining alcohol may be eligible for limited driving privileges. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 20-17.3.) Check with your local court clerk to see if this privilege applies to your situation.

Misdemeanor Sentences

North Carolina punishes misdemeanants according to the level (Class) of the crime. Repeat offenders are subject to jail time (not shown).

  • Class 1: up to 45 days of “community punishment” (probation), plus the possibility of a fine, to be determined by the judge
  • Class 2: up to 30 days of community punishment, plus the possibility of a fine of up to $1,000
  • Class 3: up to 10 days of community punishment, plus the possibility of a fine of up to $200. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 15A-1340.23.)

Selling Alcohol to a Minor

It is illegal in North Carolina to sell or give alcohol to a minor. However, the seller has a defense against having violated this law if:

  • the buyer provided state or federal photographic ID showing that the buyer was of legal age to make the purchase, or
  • the seller relies on other facts that reasonably indicated at the time of sale that the buyer was older than 21. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(d)(1)&(2).)

Alcohol Screening Tests

If a police officer has probable cause to believe that a minor has consumed alcohol, the officer may require the minor to submit to an alcohol screening test. Such a test may use only devices approved by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The results of this screen—or a refusal to take such a test—are admissible in court or administrative proceedings. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(j).)

Getting Legal Help

Because local procedures and attitudes towards the North Carolina minor in possession laws vary by community, it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with how these cases are handled in your area. This will give you a better chance of achieving the most favorable outcome under the unique circumstances of your case.

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