Given the large college student population, underage drinking is a fairly common practice in North Carolina. However, those who are caught drinking alcohol while under the age of 21 face serious consequences. When a law enforcement officer pulls a young driver over, the officer may arrest the driver even for the slightest scent of alcohol. An underage drinking charge can negatively affect a young person’s life. North Carolina imposes harsh penalties for underage drinking. When law enforcement officers smell alcohol on a driver’s breath, see an unopened container, or notice slurred speech or bloodshot eyes, they can issue a ticket for underage drinking.North Carolina Underage Drinking Laws
The legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 in the state of North Carolina. North Carolina prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from selling, possessing, or consuming alcohol. North Carolina is a zero-tolerance state when it comes to underage drinking. An underage driver with a blood alcohol concentration of even .01% will face criminal underage DWI charges. Two major exceptions exist to North Carolina’s zero-tolerance rule:
- Possession and consumption of alcohol by someone under the age of 21 is allowed when the consumption takes place as a religious right in an organized church
- An individual under age 21 can possess, transport, and distribute alcohol for employment-related purposes when the employer has a valid liquor license. Even in this situation, the underage consumption of alcohol is still a criminal offense.
North Carolina laws are extremely harsh when it comes to drinking and driving. Underage drivers who operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs face serious criminal charges. Anyone under the age of 21 who is found to be driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs faces arrest. Law enforcement can charge underage drivers with an underage DWI, a provisional DWI, or driving after consuming alcohol under the age of 21.
When law enforcement officers pull an underage driver over, they will check for signs of driving while under the influence. If the driver has any trace of controlled substances or has a blood-alcohol level of .01 or higher, the driver will face underage DWI charges.
When can a police officer pull an underage driver over? Signs of alcohol impairment that can serve as probable cause for an arrest include all of the following:
- Field sobriety tests include walk-and-turn, the horizontal gaze nystagmus (the follow my finger test), or failing the one-legged stand
- Erratic driving such as weaving in and out, swerving, or failing to stop at a stoplight or a stop sign
- Visible signs of impairment such as an inability to stay balanced, slurred speech, or bloodshot eyes
Drivers under the age of 21 who are caught with drugs or alcohol in their system face automatic suspension of their driver’s license for 30 days. Many high school students and early college students depend on their driver’s license to attend classes, to travel to work, and to engage in social activities. Losing a driver’s license can be extremely problematic and prohibitive. Hiring a skilled underage DWI defense lawyer will help you present a skilled legal defense to fight for your legal rights.Underage Drivers can Still Face Regular DWI Charges
When drivers under the age of 21 are caught driving while under the influence, the driver will face an underage DWI charge. However, when an underage driver has a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher, he or she will face “adult” or regular North Carolina DWI charges. Underage drivers who have a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher will face the same penalties as DWI defendants over the age of 21.Penalties for Underage DWI Charges in North Carolina
An underage DWI in North Carolina is a Class 2 misdemeanor with penalties ranging from 1-30 days of community service, a fine of up to $1,000, and the loss of a driver’s license for up to a year. Drivers who are under the age of 18 and are convicted of a DWI are not eligible to receive limited driving privileges. Only drivers convicted of an underage DWI with no other criminal history who are age 18, 19, or 20 will be eligible for limited driving privileges throughout the one-year revocation process.Our Underage DWI Lawyers can Help
A conviction of an underage DWI can have significant negative consequences for young adults and teenagers. If you are facing an underage DWI charge, we can help. Contact our criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC as soon as possible.