YOUNG ADULTS AND ALCOHOL LAWS
By Kim K. Steffan, Attorney
Here are four terms that are important to understand criminal liability of adults and underage (under 21) persons. How many of them do you know: “no exceptions state,” “zero tolerance,” “Good Samaritan,” and “400%”?
- As a “no exceptions state,” NC makes it a crime (a misdemeanor) for an adult to provide alcohol to someone under 21 for any reason, anywhere. There is no parent-child exception, at-home exception, or a dinner-table exception. Penalties include fines, community service, and possible jail time.
- North Carolina is a “zero tolerance” state for underage drinking and driving. It is illegal for an underage person to drive with any alcohol in his system, or while drinking alcohol. If alcohol is detected when the young person is stopped, his license is immediately suspended for 30 days, with a $100 fee to get it back; if convicted, he has a one year license suspension (and if under 18, no limited driving privilege), community service or jail time, a fine of up to $1,000, court costs of at least $190, plus his attorney’s fees. This conviction may have to be disclosed on college applications, job applications, rent applications, etc.
- There are two places where the “400%” appears in this column. If convicted of underage drinking and driving, expect vehicle insurance to increase by about 400% for three years.
- If someone under 21 is convicted of purchasing or trying to purchase alcoholic beverages, it means a one year license revocation (which may be surprising, since the offense doesn’t involve driving) with no limited driving privilege, community service or jail time, court costs of $180, a fine, and attorney’s fees if a lawyer is retained. Vehicle insurance rates go up as well. Penalties for underage drinking include community service or jail, a fine, court costs, and possible attorney’s fees. Any criminal conviction can cause problems with applications for employment, college, or apartment rental.
- NC has a “Good Samaritan” law protecting from criminal prosecution someone who calls for emergency medical help for another person who appears to be having a drug-related overdose, including alcohol poisoning. To get this protection, the caller must give her name to the 911 operator, and must stay with the victim until help arrives. The victim also receives immunity from criminal prosecution. If a medical emergency like this happens at a party, fear can cause deadly inaction. It is important to know that you can and should call 911.
- What’s the other “400%” reference? Orange County District Court records show that, from 2010 to 2015, prosecutions for adults who gave alcohol to someone under age 21 have gone UP by 400%. Orange County law enforcement and courts take this offense seriously. Alcohol contributes to the three leading causes of death among youths 12 -20 years old (unintentional injury, homicide, and suicide). Alcohol consumption by high school students tends to spike around prom and graduation. The most common place teens get alcohol is parents’ homes (theirs’ or their friends’).
Knowing the law may help keep you and those you love out of trouble, and from suffering potentially life-changing consequences. Thanks to Gayane Chambless of the Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth for assisting with resources for this column.