As a criminal attorney serving Columbia and Chesterfield, South Carolina, I often deal with charges involving underage drinking and fake IDs. Although many dismiss underage drinking as typical college behavior, data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) shows that this is a growing national problem. According to the latest surveys, 35.1 percent of 15-year-olds indicate that they have at least had one alcoholic drink during their lifetimes. In a month, 8.7 million people between the ages of 12 to 20, which accounts for about 22.7 percent of this age grouping, reported drinking alcohol. Even more concerning are self-reported incidents of binge drinking and heavy drinking. Around 5.4 million people between the ages of 12 to 20 engaged in binge drinking, which is defined as a pattern of drinking five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past thirty days. As to heavy drinking, which is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion on each of five or more days in the past 30 days, 1.4 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 self-reported having engaged in heavy drinking.

Far from being a harmless, typical teenage behavior, underage drinking poses significant risks to youth who engage in it. There are 4,358 underage fatalities each year from alcohol-related vehicle accidents, suicides, and homicides, alcohol poisoning, and other injuries such as falls and drowning. Over 190,000 individuals under 21 years of age visited an emergency room for alcohol-related injuries in one year alone. This does not even account for the harm that impaired judgment caused by alcohol abuse by youth, the documented higher risks for perpetrating or falling victim to physical and sexual assault, and well-researched long-term brain development problems. If you or a loved one find yourself charged with underage drinking in Columbia, South Carolina, you should seek the assistance of a seasoned attorney, such as the Li Law Firm, LLC.

Underage Drinking in South Carolina

South Carolina’s prohibition on underage drinking statute follows most states in that youth under 21 years of age are prohibited from possessing, consuming, purchasing, or attempting to purchase beer, wine, or liquor. If a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a person is under twenty-one years of age and has consumed alcohol, he or she may request that the person submit to any available alcohol screening test using a device approved by the State Law Enforcement Division. Those who are found guilty of violating these provisions are subject to a fine of not less than one hundred dollars and to a jail term of no more than thirty days. Additionally, a person who violates these provisions must successfully complete a state-approved alcohol prevention education or intervention program consisting of at least eight hours. This program may not cost the individual convicted more than $150.

Despite these laws, underage drinking remains a serious problem in the state. According to the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, around 85 South Carolina residents under 21 years of age die each year from alcohol-related causes. 71 percent of high school students in the state have tried alcohol, and of these, 35 percent had their first drink before they reached 13 years of age. In 2010 alone, youth under 21 consumed approximately 12 percent of all the alcohol consumed in South Carolina, and one in nine high school students chose to drive a vehicle after drinking in one month alone.

Notably, South Carolina’s underage drinking statute contains a few exceptions. The law allows minors to consume alcoholic beverages at the home of their parents or guardians. They are also permitted to consume alcoholic beverages used for religious ceremonies or purposes as long as the beverage was purchased legally.

Possession and Use of a Fake ID in South Carolina

One of the means that minors are able to purchase alcohol is by acquiring a fake ID. Unfortunately, most youth do not consider that this behavior is actually a crime under South Carolina law. Specifically, state statute provides that a person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of no more than thirty days or a fine of no more than two hundred dollars – for a first offense – if he or she:

  • Displays or has in his or her possession any canceled, revoked, suspended, or fraudulently altered South Carolina driver’s license or personal ID card;
  • Lends his or her driver’s or personal ID card to another;
  • Displays or represents any fraudulently-acquired driver’s license as his or her own;
  • Uses a false name in any application for a driver’s license or personal ID card or knowingly make a fraudulently statement in any such application; or
  • Permits any unlawful use of a driver’s license or personal ID card issued to him or her.

If an individual is caught committing a second offense of the above-referenced crime, the possible penalties are more severe. A conviction may result in a five hundred-dollar fine or six months of imprisonment. Additionally, individuals caught altering a driver’s license in order to provide false information on the license will face a misdemeanor conviction with a possible penalty of a $2,500 fine or six-month prison term.

Consequences of Underage Drinking and Fake IDs for College Students in South Carolina

Facing possible criminal penalties is only one of the potential consequences of engaging in these behaviors. Underage college students may also face severe disciplinary actions from their respective colleges or universities for this misconduct, even though it may have been committed off-campus. For example, the University of South Carolina has implemented a policy for students that prohibits:

  • Possessing or consuming alcohol, if the student is under the age or 21;
  • Possessing false or altered ID;
  • Displaying public intoxication;
  • Possessing alcohol-related paraphernalia such as empty containers or beer pong tables;
  • Showing open alcohol containers in vehicles, open spaces, or public areas of residence halls;
  • Possessing alcohol in on-campus residential rooms in which only underage students reside;
  • Providing or distributing alcohol to individuals under the age of 21; or
  • Making available common containers of alcohol that provide unrestricted access on campus or at student organization functions.

If a student is found engaging in any of the prohibited conduct described above, the university may initiate disciplinary action. This may happen even if the conduct takes place outside of university premises if it occurs during a university-sponsored event or if it may adversely affect the university community. Therefore, a student may face both criminal prosecution and university disciplinary proceedings simultaneously.

Underage drinking and falsifying identification cards are serious offenses that may have lasting consequences for a youth’s future. This becomes particularly apparent for college students, who not only risk criminal penalties such as fines and jail time, but also risk expulsion from college and the early end of their academic careers. If are in the Columbia or Midlands area in South Carolina and you find yourself or a loved one facing an underage drinking charge or false ID charge, contact the attorneys at Li Law Firm by calling (803) 719-7585 or by completing our online form. Our seasoned advocates can stand with you and help craft the best strategy for defending your case in both criminal court and in university disciplinary proceedings.