In the United Stated, to my understanding, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase, consume, or otherwise be in possession of alcohol. Therefore, would it be illegal if someone who was under 21 (Person A), went to dinner with someone (Person B) over 21 (parents, older relative, date, etc.) and Person B ordered an alcoholic drink and Person A didn't, and when the check came, Person A decided to pick up the tab? Could the police arrest this person and charge him/her with purchase of alcohol by a minor, and subsequently charge Person B with allowing a minor to purchase alcohol (I.e negligence?) And then fine the restaurant for allowing a minor to purchase alcohol?

  • This is regulated by state law. What state? May 14, 2017 at 16:37
  • @NateEldredge North Carolina - Interesting. I didn't know that States had their own individual regulations on this.
    – Michael
    May 14, 2017 at 17:20
  • Yes, underage drinking has always been a matter of state law. Every state has 21 as the minimum age to purchase alcohol because of the federal National Minimum Drinking Age Act, but the details continue to vary by state. May 14, 2017 at 17:24
  • 1
    This is a fun hypothetical situation to think about; technically it seems like it violates the letter of the rule. Although it'd be hard to think this would actually hold up in court.
    – Pat W.
    May 14, 2017 at 17:40

1 Answer 1


The police can arrest and charge anyone if they have a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed so: yes.

However, if the question is: can they secure a conviction the answer is a resounding no.

North Carolina law has three prohibitions on minors and alcohol: supplying to, possession of and buying.

  • Possession is easily dealt with: the minor never possessed the alcohol.

  • Supplying is also dealt with perfunctorily: the supply went from the restaurant to a person 21 or over.

  • This only leaves buying. Now, buying something requires a contract (or since the object is illegal, what would be a contract but for that). Did the minor have a contract with anyone? That is, were they under an obligation to pay for the alcohol? No. If the pair had skipped out on the bill, the restaurant would pursue the adult for payment because that is who they have a contract with. Any arrangement between the diners as to how they will split the bill is a private, unenforceable arrangement, not a contract.

  • 2
    But what if the under 21 person had reached majority? E.g. someone who is 18 is a full adult, and can form a full legal and binding contract.
    – sharur
    May 15, 2017 at 15:45
  • 4
    I think you reach the right conclusion, but I'm not convinced that the reasoning is correct or at least so clear. Certainly someone age 20 could enter into a binding contract but not purchase alcohol, and I'm not even convinced that the 20 year old couldn't be bound to pay the bill jointly with his dining companion. The answer in this context, I think is that buying and financing are viewed as distinct acts in light of the purpose of the law.
    – ohwilleke
    May 15, 2017 at 20:42
  • An interesting situation leads on from this. If the person over 21 who consumed the alcohol left half way through the meal and the other person (aged 18-20) remained for another 2 courses. Could the restaurant legally present the check at all? Would they remove the charge for the alcohol and present a modified check?
    – Darren H
    Jul 8, 2017 at 10:35

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