The sale, possession, and use of alcohol (beer, wine, and liquor) are strictly controlled by North Carolina law. The law restricts who can buy, where you can buy, who can use, where you can use, and what you can do after you have used too much. What follows is the law on the most commonly asked questions in the area of alcohol law.

Who can Purchase and Use Alcohol?

Any person who is Twenty-One (21) years of age can purchase alcohol from a lawful seller, and use it. If you are under Twenty-One (21) years of age, purchase, attempted purchase, or possession is a misdemeanor. It will become part of your criminal record and will subject you to court costs, fines, and possible imprisonment. If a fake ID is used, a purchase or attempted purchase of an alcoholic beverage may result in a one-year revocation of your driver’s license.

Can I Buy Alcohol For An Underage Friend?
No. If you aid or abet an underage buyer, and you are underage, it is a misdemeanor, meaning criminal record, court costs, fines, and possible imprisonment. You will also lose your driver’s license for one year. If you are Twenty-One (21) years of age or older, aiding or abetting is a Class 1 misdemeanor that includes fines up to Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00) and imprisonment up to two years. Moreover, if you don’t get an active sentence, the court must impose a fine of at least five hundred dollars ($500.00), and a requirement that you complete at least 25 hours of community service.

What Can Happen If I Become Intoxicated In Public?
No person may be prosecuted solely for being intoxicated in a public place. However, if you become disruptive by blocking traffic, blocking pedestrians on a sidewalk, grabbing, shoving, or challenging others to fight, cursing or rudely insulting others, or begging for money, you may be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. Alcoholism is a defense to the charge of intoxicated and disruptive in public. (But that defense, if used successfully, could result in Involuntary Commitment.)

What If I Drink and Drive?
You may not lawfully drive a motor vehicle on any public highway, street, or area while you are under the influence of alcohol or while your blood alcohol concentration is .08 or more. Upon conviction of this misdemeanor, you can be fined between $100 and $2,000; you can be imprisoned from 24 hours to 24 months; and you can lose your license for one or more years or permanently. The Court holds a hearing to determine the level of your sentence by balancing the mitigating and aggravating factors of your particular case. A separate offense also makes it a crime to drive a motor vehicle while consuming any kind of alcohol or while there is any alcohol in your body and while there is alcohol in the passenger area of the vehicle in anything other than the manufacturer’s unopened container. For example, if you, as driver, have even a smidgen of alcohol in your body and a passenger has an opened beer or you have, in the passenger area of your vehicle, a bottle of alcohol with the seal broken, you can be found guilty of this offense. Upon conviction, you can lose your license for up to one year. If you are less than twenty-one (21) years old and drive with any alcohol in your body, you can be convicted of a misdemeanor and lose your license for up to one year.

Where Can I Use Alcohol?
Assuming lawful possession, you can use alcohol in your home or temporary residence, such as a hotel room, or on another’s private property with their consent. You cannot use or possess alcohol on any public road, street, highway, sidewalk, at an athletic contest, or generally anywhere not authorized by law.
In Chapel Hill, the Town Council has regulated by ordinance the possession and consumption of alcohol within town boundaries. Under the Open Containers ordinance, it is unlawful for any person not an occupant of a motor vehicle to possess any open container of beer or wine on any town streets, sidewalks, municipal parking lots, any real estate owned or controlled by the town, (e.g., public parks, playgrounds, recreational fields, tennis courts, or other athletic fields), and in any buildings owned by the town. Under the Public Consumption Ordinance, it is unlawful for any person (not an occupant of a motor vehicle) to consume beer or wine on or in these same town properties. Anyone who violates these ordinances is guilty of a misdemeanor and will be fined in an amount up to $50.00.

Alcohol Liability
There is a definite trend in North Carolina law toward increasing the breadth of liability for alcohol-related injuries. The North Carolina Supreme Court has held that social hosts may be held liable in negligence for injuries caused by intoxicated guests to whom they had served alcohol and knew or should have known that they were likely to be driving a motor vehicle. Thus, a party giver must exercise reasonable care in the provision of alcohol to guests– or risk being sued.

Public Urination
Under a town ordinance, Chapel Hill has made it “unlawful for any person to urinate or defecate on any public place, sidewalk, street, alleyway or right-of-way, on in any public building, or on private property.” In other words, when you leave the bars on Franklin Street make sure you get back to your dorm or apartment before you use the bathroom – doing so in public could get you ticketed or arrested. While you can be ticketed under the local ordinance if a police officer catches you “in the act,” if that officer or any other passerby happens to be of the opposite sex, you may be charged with indecent exposure, a much more serious offense.