An alcohol crime generally refers to any type of activity that involves alcohol and is considered to be illegal. For instance, driving is a legal activity. Drunk driving, on the other hand, is not. Therefore, drunk driving is an example of an alcohol crime.
There are also various federal and state regulations that govern the sale, transfer, and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages. These regulations are strictly enforced when necessary, like not being able to purchase or consume alcohol until a person reaches the age of 21 in the U.S.
In addition, a person can face serious legal consequences if they are convicted of an alcohol crime or a crime associated with alcohol (e.g., bootlegging). Some other common examples of alcohol or alcohol-related crimes include the following:
- Being drunk in public or public intoxication;
- Drinking under the age limit;
- Operating a vehicle or heavy machinery under the influence;
- Violating local dry laws (e.g., no drinking on Sundays); and/or
- Violating open container laws.
As mentioned, alcohol crimes do not necessarily always involve the consumption of alcohol or an activity that is impaired by the consumption of alcohol like drunk driving. In fact, many laws that govern alcohol-related crimes will address other topics, such as possession, transportation, and/or the sale of alcoholic beverages.
Some examples of these types of alcohol crimes may include:
- Using a fake or fraudulent state ID to purchase alcohol as a minor;
- Selling alcohol to a person who has been overserved or who appears to be overly intoxicated;
- Violating liquor license provisions (e.g., when an establishment serves liquor, but does not possess the appropriate state liquor license to do so);
- Selling alcohol to a minor (i.e., someone below the age of 21 years old);
- Possessing alcohol as a minor; and/or
- Selling liquor in a designated “no alcohol” or “dry” zone.
Finally, alcohol and liquor laws often vary widely from state to state. In some cases, even the local rules will differ from county to county within the same state. For instance, not every county within a particular state may enforce dry law provisions.
Additionally, the penalties for alcohol crimes may be different as well. Thus, you may want to speak to a local criminal lawyer for further legal advice if you are facing charges or punishment for an alcohol-related crime.
What are the Legal Penalties for Alcohol Crimes?
The legal penalties for alcohol crimes can range from a minor penalty like receiving a citation that requires payment of a small fee to more serious forms of punishment, such as having to serve a set amount of time in a state prison facility. For example, public drunkenness is considered to be a minor offense in many states. Thus, the penalty for public drunkenness in most states will likely only be a traffic citation.
As for alcohol-related crimes like drunk driving or liquor law violations, the penalties are usually more serious in many states and will likely result in charges for a misdemeanor. If a person is convicted of an alcohol-related misdemeanor crime, then they may be required to pay a criminal fine of up to $1,000 and/or may possibly have to serve time in a county jail for up to one full year.
Some alcohol crimes, however, will immediately be charged as a felony offense in many states. Alcohol crimes that are considered to be felony offenses may result in having to pay higher criminal fines and/or needing to serve a longer prison sentence (usually for at least one full year or longer). The reason for this is because many felony alcohol crimes involve causing severe property damage and/or serious bodily injury to another person.
For instance, a person may need to serve time in prison and potentially have to pay high monetary fines if they are found guilty of a drunk driving hit and run. This refers to the act of driving while under the influence of alcohol, hitting another person, and driving off from the scene of the crime. If caught and convicted, that person could face life imprisonment if the person they hit succumbs to their injuries and dies.
What is a “Repeat Offense”?
One common denominator between the alcohol crime laws in the majority of states is that the penalties that a defendant can receive will increase in severity each time a person is charged with an alcohol-related crime. A defendant who is charged for violating an alcohol crime law two or more times is known as a “repeat offender.” Thus, a “repeat offense” is simply when a person is charged with the same crime more than once on separate occasions.
For example, an individual may be charged with and convicted of drunk driving, then sentenced to serve six months in a county jail facility. If that individual is charged with drunk driving again after serving their sentence for the first drunk driving incident, the second round of charges and/or conviction will be deemed to be a subsequent or “repeat offense.”
Due to public policy as well as other general health and safety concerns associated with violations of alcohol consumption regulations, repeat offenses involving alcohol-related crimes can result in very strict penalties if a repeat offender is convicted. For instance, in many states, a first-time DUI offense will almost always be classified as a misdemeanor unless others were severely injured in a DUI accident.
On the other hand, if a person is charged with a DUI offense a second or third time, then the crime will be elevated to the level of a felony crime in almost every jurisdiction. It should be noted that misdemeanor crimes can be elevated to a felony offense for many other types of alcohol-related crimes as well.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I am being Charged with an Alcohol Crime?
As previously discussed, alcohol crime laws can vary widely from state to state, and even from county to county within the same state. Thus, the penalties and requirements for alcohol-related crimes will largely depend on the facts in your case and the laws in your jurisdiction.
Therefore, it may be in your best interest to consult with a local criminal lawyer for further legal guidance if you are facing charges or being punished for an alcohol-related crime. An experienced criminal lawyer will be able to explain how the laws in your county may affect the outcome of your case, your rights under the laws, and the punishments you may receive if you are found guilty of the alcohol crime charges filed against you.
Your lawyer will also be able to perform legal research to find out if there are any legal defenses available that you can assert in order to build a strong defensive case. In addition, your lawyer can raise any legal defenses they find to assist in getting the charges against you reduced or completely dropped. Alternatively, your lawyer can also use legal defenses to reduce the severity of penalties that you might receive if convicted.
Finally, your lawyer will be able to provide legal representation in court or at any other proceedings related to your alcohol crime matter as well. Remember, some violations of alcohol crime laws can result in a prison sentence. Accordingly, retaining a qualified criminal lawyer could potentially help you to avoid jail time or a longer prison sentence.