Obtaining a state liquor license can be one of the hardest things a bar or restaurant owner ever has to do. There are many steps, applications, and forms that go into obtaining and maintaining a liquor sales license. Even worse may be losing a license for selling alcohol to a minor, after spending months and tens of thousands of dollars to obtain one.

Consequences for selling alcohol to a minor can vary depending on state law. They typically include some sort of fine, as well as a possible citation. In some cases, the business owner may lose their liquor license or even their ability to operate their business; however these consequences can vary from case to case. 

Do I Automatically Lose My Liquor License for Selling Alcohol to a Minor?

No, the laws in this area are not quite that cut and dry. There are various factors that go into deciding punishments if a minor is served alcohol. First of all, although all states do have a minimum age for buying and drinking alcohol (21 years old), it is not a federal law. 

This means that each state is free to create its own specific laws, punishments, and agencies regarding the regulation of alcohol sales. California, for instance, has the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), which is an agency responsible for drafting and enforcing the provisions of the liquor license.

Each state's alcohol agency will have specific enforcement provisions regarding punishments for violating a liquor license provision. In general, the agency is free to revoke a license for ANY type of alcohol-related offense, even a first one. However, in practice they will usually give first time offenders a fine, warning, and/or a suspension of the license (usually a week or so). 

On the other hand, if the offense is particularly blatant, the license may be revoked, even for a first offense. Also, if you are cited for selling to a minor again within a year of the first citation, many boards or agencies will automatically revoke your license (some states allow 3 times in one year).  

Upon receiving an alcohol violation citation, you can request an administrative hearing to present your side of the story. At this point, you may present any mitigating factors you might have, or can agree to the punishment and submit to the consequences.  

If your license has been revoked, you generally must wait at least six months before applying for another liquor license. This process which will be made even more difficult and costly than the initial application due to the mark on your record.

What are Some other Consequences of Selling Alcohol to a Minor?

Aside from violating your liquor license provision, selling to a minor is also considered a crime and is associated with various criminal punishments. There are generally two sets of penalties if you are caught selling alcohol to a minor. One is issued in relation to your clerk (who actually made the sale), and another to you, the license holder or licensee (the under age minor can also be charged, of course).  

  • Licensee Consequences: Generally, selling to a minor is considered a class-2 misdemeanor in most states and jurisdictions. This means it only carries a 30 day maximum sentence and a small fine (incarceration is unlikely). 
    • However, if the minor is under 18 years old, then it may be increased to a class-1 misdemeanor, which is a full year in jail and a $1,000 fine. In addition, civil penalties can be awarded against the licensee for the vicarious liability of the clerk. 
    • These may start from $500 and will double for each offense (if the clerk has not attended any state-mandated alcohol license training courses, these fines may double). Also, many states may automatically revoke a license if the licensee is the one who sold the alcohol to a minor.    

  • Clerk Consequences: The clerk who actually sells the alcohol to a minor is generally liable for all the same penalties as the licensee. That is, they can be arrested for a class 1 or class 2 misdemeanor, depending on the age of the minor. 
    • The state also imposes other punitive sanctions at their discretion, such as suspending the clerk's driver's license for 30 days to a year. 

Bear in mind that the monetary range amounts for each fine may be different in each state or jurisdiction. Generally speaking, most jurisdictions will follow similar fine guidelines for selling alcohol to a minor.

What if the Minor Used a Fake ID?

In most states, a licensee is only held liable if they sold to a minor without asking for any ID. If an ID card is asked for, and a fake ID indicating the minor is actually 21 is shown, then in almost all cases, no charges will be filed from either the police or from the state alcohol control board. 

The one exception is for cases where the ID does not appear to be reasonably realistic. For example, if it says the minor is 100 years old, or is of a completely different appearance altogether, then you will likely be held liable. 

However, due to newer, extremely accurate-looking forgeries on the black market, a bar or liquor store will rarely be held liable for accepting a fake ID. The same applies to actual ID cards that don't belong to the minor (for instance if a person uses his older brother's real driver's license).  

The vast majority of police stings and investigations are designed to catch liquor vendors who sell to minors without carding, or card them (and get real IDs that say they are minors), and then sell them anyway. 

So it is very important that your clerks actually do check the age represented on any IDs presented. A scanning device to confirm the IDs authenticity (available for little cost), can go a long way in protecting you from liability, even though many forged IDs are now so advanced as to pass this test too.  

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Alcohol Sales to Minors Legal Issues?

If you have been cited for selling liquor to a minor, or have lost your liquor license, you should consult an experienced business attorney immediately.  A business lawyer in your region can help speed up the process of getting a new license, or help you during an administrative hearing with an alcohol board. 

If you've been arrested or charged with a liquor violation, then you should get a criminal attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.