Ignorantia Iuris Neminem Excusat (Ignorance of the Law Excuses No One)

Courtesy of dui.com

When I moved to North Carolina from New York a little over a year ago, I assumed that alcohol laws were generally the same from state to state. Imagine my shock when I realized that I couldn’t buy alcohol between 2 am and noon on Sundays, forcing me to prepare in advance for Sunday afternoon football games. Some folks from out-of-state may be unaware about the specifics of drinking laws, but ignorance of the law is not a valid defense in court. Even if you’re a Carolina native, it’s always helpful to know the know the law and know your rights. Below are some interesting laws that may be new information to you. As a disclaimer, this is not meant to be taken as legal advice so if you have questions, please consult a lawyer or Student Legal Services.


It is illegal to serve alcohol to anyone who is intoxicated. Bars won’t let you put your head down on the table for fear of violating this law. Becoming belligerent at a bar that refuses to serve you alcohol is a threat to their business.

There is zero tolerance for drivers under 21. Being caught with any amount of alcohol in the body (i.e. having a breathalyzer BAC of anything over 0.00) will result in license suspension for a year.

It is illegal to have an open container (an open container is unopened manufacturer’s original container) of alcohol in a vehicle’s passenger area. You should put any alcohol that you’re transporting in the trunk of the vehicle.

Public drunkenness that disrupts the peace (violence, verbal harassment, use of profanity, urination) can lead to fines of $50 and jail time. Plus, if you’re underage, this type of behavior attracts attention and is a great way to get an underage drinking ticket.

In Chapel Hill, it is illegal to possess or consume alcohol on public property such as parks, sidewalks, streets, and schools.

If you host a party and allow a guest to drive home drunk, you can be sued or face charges for damage or injuries they cause. If you’re throwing a party, it is your responsibility to ensure that your guests are not driving under the influence. As the party winds down, don’t let intoxicated guests get behind the wheel.

It is illegal to consume alcohol in a permitted establishment (i.e. bars and restaurants) between 2:30 to 7:00 AM.

Under implied consent laws, refusal to cooperate when a law enforcement officer requests a breath, blood, or urine test for intoxication carries a penalty of driver’s license suspension of up to a year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 20% of drunk driving suspects refuse to take a breathalyzer or other BAC test. The difficult decision whether to comply with a BAC test depends on your understanding of the legal risks involved with either choice. It may be best to avoid this situation altogether, especially when you’re underage.

An officer cannot rely merely on the smell of alcohol for a violation unless the driver refuses a screening test.

Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) special agents are responsible for the enforcement of NC state alcohol laws. These agents have broad authority to enforce alcohol related laws uniformly across the state. Although some people may only have had negative interactions with these agents, remember that they also enforce the alcohol laws that keep you safe.

There are many more alcohol laws in North Carolina, but I chose to highlight these because I thought they were both useful and interesting. Again, this is not meant to be taken as legal advice so if you have questions, please consult a lawyer or Student Legal Services.

Stay safe,

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