Minor in possession of alcohol is one of the most common charges picked up by young adults in Myrtle Beach and Conway, SC, whether they are locals, here on vacation, celebrating spring break, or enrolled in school at Coastal Carolina University. 

It’s a misdemeanor charge, but it’s still a criminal offense that must be handled promptly and competently if you do not want your child to begin their life’s journey with a criminal record and potential disciplinary action at their school… 

In this article, we will discuss charges for minor in possession of alcohol in SC, including:

  • What minor in possession means, 
  • The exceptions – when a person younger than 21 can drink or possess alcohol, 
  • The potential penalties for minor in possession charges, and
  • How to keep these charges off your criminal record. 

What are Minor in Possession of Alcohol Charges? 

Under SC Code § 63-19-2440, it is a crime for any person under the age of 21 to “purchase, attempt to purchase, consume, or knowingly possess beer, ale, porter, wine, or other similar malt or fermented beverage.” 

Although the statute expressly authorizes law enforcement to give the person a breathalyzer test to determine whether they have consumed alcohol, police rarely do. In most cases, an officer sees alcohol, smells alcohol, or responds to a call to a party where there is underage drinking, and then arrests every person in proximity to the alcohol… 

If you or your child has been charged with minor in possession in Myrtle Beach, you should know that:

  • There may be defenses to the crime like mere presence, constructive possession, or insufficient evidence, 
  • An attorney may be able to get your charges dismissed or win your case at trial, 
  • There may be pretrial diversion options that will keep the charges off your record, and
  • You should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately – before your initial court date

Exceptions: When can a Minor Possess or Drink Alcohol? 

There are exceptions to the prohibition on alcohol for minors in SC, found in § 63-19-2440, and a related statute, SC Code § 61-4-90, that criminalizes the transfer or sale of alcohol to a minor. 

The exceptions include:

  • A person 18 years of age or older who is employed to serve alcoholic beverages in a licensed establishment (bartenders must be 21), 
  • An employee who sells or delivers alcoholic beverages in an unopened container, 
  • A student who is required to use or taste alcohol in a culinary course, 
  • A person younger than 21 who is employed by law enforcement to test an establishment’s compliance with the law, 
  • A spouse over the age of 21 who gives alcohol to their spouse who is under the age of 21 in their home, 
  • A parent or guardian over the age of 21 who gives alcohol to their child or ward who is under the age of 21 in their home, and
  • Use of alcohol in a religious ceremony. 

Penalties for Minor in Possession of Alcohol in SC

Minor in possession of alcohol (MIP) is a misdemeanor offense that carries up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $1-200 (plus court costs). It is a criminal offense, and a conviction will go on the defendant’s criminal record… 

Any person who is convicted of MIP must also complete an eight-hour alcohol prevention or intervention program approved by DAODAS. 

What Should You Do If You Are Charged with Minor in Possession? 

First, talk to your parents or guardian – although you may not want them to know that you were arrested, the potential consequences for “just paying the fine” or pleading guilty are likely much worse than the potential consequences for disappointing your parents. 

Whether you are the person charged or the parents of the person charged, you should call an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately – there is an initial court date and you will need to request a jury trial in writing before that court date – or have an attorney appear on your behalf – if you want to avoid a guilty plea, trial in absence, or bench trial with no jury. 

Pretrial Diversion Programs for Alcohol Offenses

In most cases, there are options to keep this off of your record – there may be defenses that you do not know about, facts that would allow your attorney to get the charges dismissed, facts that would allow your attorney to win your case at trial, or pretrial diversion options like:

If the case is accepted into a pretrial diversion program, the charges are dismissed and expunged once the defendant has completed the required community service and counseling. Note that the expungement is not automatic – you must apply for the expungement through the pretrial diversion program’s office. 

Are Minor in Possession of Alcohol Charges Constitutional? 

The SC state constitution prohibits legislators from passing laws that deny rights to people 18 or older, which should make a law prohibiting the possession of alcohol for adults aged 18-21 unconstitutional.  

In 2008, the SC Supreme Court held in State v. Bolin that the state’s prohibition on gun possession by 18-20 year-olds was unconstitutional for this very reason, but then upheld the state’s minor in possession laws in City of Rock Hill v. Harris three years later, facing the potential loss of millions in federal highway funding. 

Questions About Minor in Possession of Alcohol? 

If you or your child was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor in Conway or Myrtle Beach, SC, it is important that you talk to a Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyer quickly. 

If you are convicted of an alcohol offense, it can result in a criminal record, jail time, fines, loss of financial aid for college students, and even expulsion from your college depending on the outcome of the college’s administrative hearing.

In most cases, we can avoid the negative consequences of an alcohol-related conviction by getting your case dismissed, by using a pretrial diversion program like the Alcohol Education Program (AEP), or by winning your case at trial.

Call Coastal Law, LLC now at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to set up a free, confidential consultation.

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