Liquor laws are laws which govern the consumption and sale of alcoholic beverages. Each state in the United States has its own liquor laws.

It is important to note that liquor laws may different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within the same state. For example, the sale of alcohol in a business zone is highly regulated and alcohol sales may be prohibited on Sundays or at certain times of day.

In general, liquor laws govern:

  • Who is permitted to sell alcoholic beverages;
  • Who is permitted to purchase alcoholic beverages;
  • Where liquor is permitted to be sold and at what times;
  • Drinking and driving, or DUI/DWI laws, as well as other crimes, for example, open container laws;
  • Issuing liquor licenses and licenses to serve alcohol; and
  • Drinking at bars and other alcohol-centered venues.

What Happens if a Liquor Law is Violated?

A violation of liquor laws may result in various legal penalties, such as fines or citations. More serious violations may lead to misdemeanor charges, which can result in jail time.

If a business violates the liquor laws, they may temporarily or permanently lose their liquor license. Loss of a license often occurs when a business is caught selling alcohol to minors.

What is an Alcohol Crime?

Alcohol crimes generally refer to any activities which involve alcohol and are considered to be illegal. Driving, for example, is a legal activity.

Drunk driving, in contrast, is not a legal activity. Drunk driving is a common example of an alcohol crime.

In addition, there are federal and state regulations which govern the following related to alcoholic beverages:

  • Sale;
  • Transfer; and/or
  • Consumption.

These regulations can be strictly enforced, such as the prohibition on the sale or consumption of alcohol until an individual reaches the age of 21 in the United States. Additionally, an individual may face serious consequences if they are convicted of an alcohol crime or a crime that is associated with alcohol, for example, bootlegging.

Common examples of alcohol or alcohol-related crimes include, but are not limited to:

  • Being drunk in public or public intoxication;
  • Drinking under the age limit;
  • Operating vehicles or heavy machinery while under the influence;
  • Violating local dry laws, for example, no drinking on Sundays; and/or
  • Violating open container laws.

As previously noted, an alcohol crime does not always necessarily involve the consumption of alcohol or an activity which is impaired by the consumption of alcohol, such as drunk driving. Many laws which govern alcohol-related crimes actually address other issues, including:

  • Possession;
  • Transportation; and/or
  • Sale.

Examples of these types of alcohol crimes may include, but are not limited to:

  • Using a fraudulent or fake state identification to purchase alcohol as a minor;
  • Selling alcohol to an individual who has been overserved or who appears to be overly intoxicated;
  • Violating liquor license provisions, such as when an establishment serves liquor, but does not possess the appropriate state liquor license to do so;
  • Selling alcohol to a minor, or an individual below the age of 21 years old;
  • Possessing alcohol as a minor; and/or
  • Selling liquor in a designated “no alcohol” or “dry” zone.

As previously noted, alcohol and liquor laws typically vary widely by state and even by county to county within a state. For example, not every county in a state may enforce the dry law provisions.

In addition, the penalties for an alcohol crime may also vary. Because of this, an individual may wish to consult with a local criminal lawyer for further legal advice if they are facing charges for an alcohol-related crime.

What are the Legal Penalties for Alcohol Crimes?

The legal penalties for an alcohol crime may range from a minor punishment, such as receiving a citation which requires payment of a small fee to more serious punishments, such as being required to serve time in a state prison facility. For example, public intoxication is typically a minor offense and will likely only result in a citation.

The penalties are often more serious from crimes such as liquor law violations or drunk driving. These offenses may result in misdemeanor charges which are penalized by criminal fines of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in jail.

Certain alcohol crimes are felony offenses, which will result in higher criminal fines and/or a prison sentence of one year or more. These crimes are offenses which involve severe property damage and/or serious bodily injury to another individual.

What Are Zoning Laws and How Do they Apply to Liquor Licenses?

Zoning of property is done by the majority of local governments. It is important for a business owner to be aware of the proposed location of their business prior to applying for a liquor license because a proposed location in the wrong zone may lead to a denial of the application.
In regards to a liquor license, a business that is located within a wet zone may be permitted to apply for a liquor license while a business which is located in a dry zone would not be permitted to do so.

What Are Dry Laws?

Dry laws are laws which prohibit the sale and purchase of alcoholic beverages in a specific time frame or a specific area. Dry laws vary by state and even by locations within a state, such as from county to county.

Many restrictions of dry laws are based on the time frame. For example, a county may prohibit alcohol sales at night while another county may only restrict sales on Sunday with what are commonly referred to as “blue laws.”

What Are Dry Counties?

A dry county is a county which prohibits the sale of alcohol altogether. Dry counties may enforce liquor prohibitions for on-premises sales or off-premises sales.

In contrast, certain counties may prohibit certain types of liquor-selling establishments, also referred to as dram shops, within certain geographic boundaries.

What Are the Legal Penalties for Violating Dry Law Requirements?

A violation of dry law requirements may result in legal penalties. If an individual is caught purchasing alcohol in violation of a dry law, it may result in:

  • Monetary fines;
  • Jail time; and/or
  • Mandatory rehabilitation.

A dram shop or business owner who violates dry laws may also face legal penalties, which may include fines and/or jail time.

In addition, the individual’s business license or liquor license may be temporarily or permanently revoked. A violation of dry law rules may also complicate other alcohol-related charges, such as:

If an individual has violated both a dry law and an alcohol law, they may face more severe legal punishments as a result of the multiple violations. As with any type of law, ignorance of the applicable dry laws will not serve as a defense in court.

Which States Enforce Dry Laws?

Although their dry laws may vary by county, the following states enforce some type of restriction on alcohol sales:

  • Alabama;
  • Arkansas;
  • Florida;
  • Georgia;
  • Indiana;
  • Kansas;
  • Kentucky;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Minnesota;
  • Mississippi;
  • Ohio;
  • Oregon;
  • South Carolina;
  • Tennessee; and
  • Texas.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Violation of Dry Laws?

As discussed above, alcohol crime laws and dry laws can vary by state and even by county within a state. Because of this, the requirements and the penalties for these offenses will depend largely on the facts of your case and the laws in your jurisdiction.

If you believe you may have violated a dry law in your area, consulting with an experienced business attorney can help you determine whether or not you have actually committed a violation pursuant to the alcohol restrictions in your county. In addition, your lawyer may be able to negotiate for a lesser punishment on your behalf.