As a freshman at Carolina, I didn’t know any other students here. After orientation, I felt I was armed with tons of information about what to expect from my classes, dorm life and southern culture, but I had still never spoken to anyone about what really goes on during a weekend at USC. Most of what I heard about nightlife was coming from other freshmen who were just as clueless as me, but I quickly got the scoop: when you hardly know anyone on campus and you’re looking for a good time, all signs point to Five Points.
Starting out at USC, it can seem like getting a fake ID and heading to the bars is the only way to have “the real college experience.” But if you aren’t of-age, going to bars with a fake ID runs a very real chance of significant risks, including some expensive tickets or even a trip to jail.
Kate, a third- year psychology student, has experienced some of these consequences.
“I had heard of kids being taken to jail from Five Points,” she says, “but I thought those were extreme cases. I was just in a bar when a cop approached me asking for my ID. I handed him my real ID, which said I was 18, and he then grabbed my wallet and pulled out my fake. He put handcuffs on me and led me out of the bar, but even after he wrote out my tickets, I thought I‘d just be able to leave and then appear in court later until he told me, ‘You are going to jail tonight.’”
Jessica Velders of the USC Police Department explained that, while officers may be less likely to bring someone to jail if they are only being charged with one offense or don’t seem to be intoxicated, this decision is really left to the arresting officer’s discretion. Because the law states that if you are consuming alcohol, you must be able to prove that you are 21 years old when asked, anyone caught drinking or in a 21+ bar can be approached by a police officer.
Velders says that asking people for their ID is usually done at random and that police try to not target certain groups but their main goal is to ensure that everyone they see drinking is doing so legally.
Despite a paddy wagon ride to the Richland County jail and a night amongst inmates, (some who were serving up to six month sentences for crimes like assault), Kate was able to get the charges of minor in possession and possession of another’s ID expunged through the Alcohol Education Program (AEP).
“I’m grateful that I got the charges expunged, but I don’t see the point in me being taken to jail for the night,” Kate says. “Being frisked, changing into a prison uniform and sleeping in a cell was absolutely traumatizing.”
Further she says,“I think taking people to jail for alcohol charges is just a scare tactic. Guards working at the jail even said that they don’t understand why the police bring young girls from Five Points in to a county jail.”
The Alcohol Education Program is offered in the state of South Carolina to allow minors being charged with certain alcohol related offenses to clear their records. When you appear in court, the judge lists the charges that qualify for participation in AEP.
These include minor in possession of beer, wine or alcohol and possession of another’s ID or a false ID, among other charges. Minors between ages 17-20 who have never participated in AEP before can apply for participation in the program.
The requirements include a $250 enrollment fee, 20 hours of community service and three separate classes (each with a fee). In total, the program costs around $750 including the $285 expungement fee.
If you get into trouble after already completing AEP once, the state offers a more expensive and time-consuming program for expungement called Pre-Trial Intervention.
Jessica, a third-year international business student, had to complete this program after being charged with minor in possession. Holding a beer at age 19 seems relatively insignificant when compared to a few of the other charges that can be expunged through PTI, which include stalking, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy or other drugs and unlawful possession of a pistol.
PTI ended up putting Jessica back about round $850 and included 35 hours of community service, two Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, a urine drug test, the same eight-hour class given in AEP and a class called “Get Smart”, in which she had to meet with a group of prison inmates- including one arrested for murder.
“We had to sit shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners and say our age and what we were arrested for to make us feel uncomfortable,” she says. “The prisoners were given instructions to call us out on things like wearing inappropriate clothing or not speaking clearly enough. They basically told us that we were going to end up like them if we didn’t get smart.”
Most students looking to partake in the experience of Five Points are unlikely to be arrested for anything more than minor in possession or having a fake ID. The bars serve as a main source of entertainment among students at USC, despite the large number who are not yet 21. Five Points will still be there once you’re of age but for those that choose to take this risk, they should at least be armed with the facts about what may happen if they get caught underage.