Though it may seem quite common, drinking while underage can expose you to serious consequences. Since you aren’t legally allowed to drink, making this mistake is an even bigger deal if you are caught by the police.

In South Carolina, the legal drinking age is 21. If you drink prior to this age, you’re committing a crime – regardless of whether you have several drinks or instead just have a sip or two at a party.

There are lots of laws regarding underage alcohol consumption in SC. If you drink – or even just have alcohol on you – you’ll likely break a number of them.

Whether you’re just thinking about drinking, or you’ve already run into trouble as a result of a previous mistake, learning more about the laws and consequences will benefit you.

What are the charges for underage drinking?

First, let’s start by going through the most common underage drinking charges in South Carolina. They are:

Misrepresenting Age

If you’re under 21 and try to obtain alcohol by lying about your age, you’re engaging in “misrepresentation.” You can be arrested any time you lie about you age, regardless of whether you are successful in buying alcohol. Whether you are successful or not does make a difference when it comes to the charge.


According to the SC penal code, anyone who provides false information about his or her age has committed a misdemeanor. This is punishable by a fine of $100 to $200, up to 30 days in jail or both.

If you’re successful in your attempt to buy alcohol, you can also be charged with possession.

Underage purchase, possession, consumption of alcohol


It’s illegal for anyone under 21 to hold, buy or drink any form of alcohol, including beer, wine and liquor. If you’re underage and have alcohol, it is called possession.

Under state law, if you have a beverage containing alcohol, you can be charged with knowingly possessing alcohol. This means you knew you had alcohol. To avoid this, you must be extra careful. If you’re caught in a car that has alcohol in it, you can – and probably will – be charged with knowingly possessing alcohol, even if you attempt to argue that you didn’t know it was there.


Purchasing alcohol is even easier for the police to identify.

Many times, the buyer and seller are caught breaking the law during the exchange. When this happens, both the buyer and seller are usually charged because the purchase of alcohol by a minor and the sale of alcohol to a minor are both illegal.


Law enforcement officers will identify alcohol consumption by observing you. If they suspect you have been drinking, they often confirm their suspicions with breathalyzer tests.

If you’re accused of consuming alcohol when you know you haven’t been, one option is to request that the police officer administers a breath test. This will provide proof that you actually haven’t been drinking.


Violations of purchasing, possessing and consumption of alcohol are punished by a fine of $100 to $200, up to 30 days in jail or both.

In addition, if you’re convicted of any of these charges, you’ll be required to complete an alcohol safety training class.

Exceptions to the Law:

There are a few exceptions under the law that allow you to drink alcohol underage:

  • Youth 18 to 20 years old can purchase alcohol under the instruction of a law enforcement agency to test whether retailers will sell to minors.
  • Minors can move closed containers of alcohol as part of their employment.
  • Young waiters may serve alcohol, but they cannot be bartenders.
  • College students may participate in a class where tasting alcohol is required for the course.
  • Minors may consume alcohol in the home of their parents or legal guardians.
  • Minors may consume alcohol in religious ceremonies as long as the alcohol was legally purchased.

Underage DUI

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious charge no matter what your age. Underage DUI charges are handled similarly to – but not exactly like – adult DUI charges.

Adults can be charged with DUI for blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.08 percent. As a minor, you can be charged for a BAC of 0.02 percent. This basically means that there is zero tolerance for underage drinking and driving. To get to this level, you don’t have to have drink very much. In most cases, just one drink can push a minor over this limit. If your BAC reaches 0.08 percent, you can be charged as an adult.

SC’s “Implied Consent” laws say that, by driving on SC highways, you have “impliedly consented” to give a breath, blood, or urine sample for the purpose of detecting alcohol. If you refuse a breathalyzer test, your license may be suspended, you may be required to enroll in ADSAP, and you may be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle in addition to the penalties you face if you are convicted of DUI.

Penalties for Underage DUI Charges:

While a jail sentence isn’t part of the punishment for underage DUI, you can be charged as an adult if your BAC reaches 0.08 percent.

Below this limit, an underage DUI conviction is punishable by a driver’s license suspension, or temporary loss of driving privileges:

1st 3 months 6 months
2nd 6 months 1 year

When deciding the offense number for an underage drunk driver, the courts only consider offenses within the last three years. This is known as the “lookback” period. So, if you earn a DUI at 16-years-old, another charge at age 19 would count as your second offense. However, another charge at age 20 would count as your first offense.

Your attorney can challenge a suspension by requesting a hearing. In the hearing, your attorney may challenge the probable cause and the arrest, question the breath test, discuss Miranda rights, or question any other legal elements that seem inappropriate. If you qualify for a hearing, you may be eligible to get a temporary “alcohol restricted” license. This would allow you to drive between the time you requested the hearing and the hearing date.

Those convicted of drinking and driving must complete an Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ADSAP). This program is sponsored by the state to help those who have driven drunk learn from their mistakes.

DUI convictions have consequences beyond jail time, fines, driver’s license suspensions and mandatory alcohol programs. These additional consequences could include:

  • Increased car insurance rates
  • Loss of scholarship opportunities
  • Difficulty getting accepted to college
  • Trouble finding a job

If you’re 18 or older when you commit the DUI, you could be charged with child endangerment if you have someone 16 or under in the car with you.

If you have more than one DUI conviction, you could be forced to install an ignition interlock device (IID). This would require you to complete a breathalyzer test every time you start your car.

Questions about Underage Drinking Charges in SC

We’ve handled many DUI cases, and we handle them on a regular basis. Most of our clients ask very similar questions. Here are answers to the most common questions our clients as us.

1. Will I go to jail for an underage drinking charge?

You could! If you are caught driving with a blood alcohol level above 0.08 percent, you can be fined, sentenced to jail or both. Judges have the discretion to hand out whatever punishments they see fit.

2. Can an underage drinking charge get dropped?

Yes. Your attorney can negotiate and “plea bargain” on your behalf. Sometimes that results in charges getting dropped or reduced.

3. Should I just pay the fine for my underage drinking charge?

To start, you may be facing jail time in addition to a fine. Secondly, paying the fine means pleading guilty. If you don’t have an attorney already, you need one to help you fight the charges. You do not want a DUI conviction following you around.

4. Do I need a lawyer for an underage drinking charge?

Yes! You don’t want something like this placing a black mark on your record. It can show up again on a background check when you try to get a job, apply for college and so forth.

5. Is an underage DUI the same as an adult DUI?

The underlying concept is the same, but everything else is different. The penalties are very different, and the threshold for being deemed a drunk driver is much lower for minors. Even one drink can push you over the legal limit.

6. Will I go to jail if I get charged with underage DUI?

It depends. If your charge is pushed up to an adult charge, you could go to jail. Sentencing is often harsher when death or serious injury occurs. Sentences for traffic stop DUIs, on the other hand, are often lighter.

7. Do I need an attorney for an underage DUI charge?

Yes! You have so much life ahead of you, and you don’t want a misguided mistake holding you back. While the legal penalties might be temporary, the impact on your education, employment and reputation are long-lasting.

Getting advice about your case

The lawyers at Coastal Law want to help you through this situation. They will go over the facts of your case and help you make good decisions throughout the legal process.

Give us a call at (843) 488-5000 or use our online form. Together we can figure out how to help you get the best possible outcome.

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Contact Coastal Law to discuss your situation.

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