Know your legal rights.
The drinking age in South Carolina is 21. That sounds simple enough. However, the laws surrounding underage drinking can get much more complex, depending on the situation. To protect your rights, you need to understand what is and isn't illegal. You also need to know what the police are and aren't allowed to do to enforce those laws.
Remember, lying about your age to buy alcohol is always illegal
Attempting to purchase alcohol while under 21 is a misdemeanor in South Carolina. That is the case whether you actually completed the purchase or not. If you're caught misrepresenting your age, such as by using a fake ID, you're facing a fine of $100 to $200 and up to 30 days in jail. Of course, if you did complete the purchase, you can also be charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol.
Understand the legal meaning of "possession of alcohol"
Legally, "possession" doesn't require that you physically have a bottle of alcohol in your hand. It means you have knowledge of the presence of alcohol. It also means you're in a position to have control over it. For instance, if you're a passenger in a car and know there's an alcoholic beverage somewhere in the passenger area, or if you're at a party or event where drinks are available to you, that may be enough to face a "constructive possession" charge.
Know the exceptions where underage drinking is legal
South Carolina law allows people under age 21 to consume alcohol in their parent, guardian, or spouse's home, or as part of a religious ceremony, as long as the alcohol is legally purchased. There is also an exception for students in accredited culinary programs who need to taste alcohol as part of the curriculum, so long as they are under the supervision of an authorized adult instructor.
You can request a breathalyzer if you know for sure you haven't been drinking
Be very careful with this one, because it doesn't take much to register at least a 0.02 blood alcohol content (BAC), the legal limit if you're under 21. In addition to alcohol, there are certain medications that can register a BAC on a breathalyzer test, including asthma medications, mouthwashes, and oral gels, and some over-the-counter products such as cold medications. Certain rare medical conditions can cause a BAC to register as well. Still, if you are absolutely sure you haven't had a drop of alcohol, and a police officer suspects you have been drinking, you have the right to politely request a breathalyzer test. (However, note that the officer is not required to perform the test, even if you ask for it.)
You should exercise your right to an attorney
The legal consequences for an underage drinking charge can follow you for a long time. It's critical that you get strong legal representation right from the beginning to mitigate those consequences as much as possible.
Our goal is to protect your rights. We want to help you keep your life, your education, and your future on track. If you or your child is facing charges for underage drinking, contact us right away. Ask for a free consultation with attorney Matt Bodman.