What are Liquor Laws?

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 What Are Liquor Laws?

Liquor laws govern the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Each state has its own liquor laws, which may even differ from region to region within one state.

For instance, the sale of alcohol in business zones might be highly regulated; the sale of alcohol may be prohibited on Sundays or during certain times of the day. In some states, hard liquor sales are limited to special stores with limited operations.

Generally speaking, liquor laws govern the following issues:

  • Who Can Sell Alcohol: Generally, a person must have a license or permit to sell alcohol;
  • Who Can Buy Alcohol: A person must be 21 or over 21 to buy alcohol. A person must be over 21 to consume alcohol. Oddly, in some states, a person might be able to buy alcoholic beverages at 18 but cannot consume them until they are 21. Using fake identification to buy alcohol is a criminal offense in all states;
  • Age at Which Consumption Is Legal: For example, all states prohibit providing alcohol to people under 21. Some states have exceptions for providing alcohol to minors as part of religious activities or if a parent, guardian, or spouse consents. Among states that have an exception related to consent, the application of the exception is often limited to specific locations, such as private locations, private homes, or in the parent or guardian’s home.
    • In other words, a parent could not consent to their child under 21 consuming alcohol in a restaurant or bar. No state allows anyone other than a family member to provide alcohol to a minor on private property;
  • When and Where Liquor Can Be Sold: These laws vary by state. For example, in New York, beer can be sold in grocery stores, but wine and hard liquor can only be sold in liquor stores. New York recently legalized the ordering of alcohol online and delivery of it to home.
    • From Monday to Saturday, beer can be sold24 hours per day. Wine and liquor can be sold from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. On Sundays, beer can be sold 24 hours, while wine and liquor can only be sold from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Other states have comparable laws that prescribe when and where alcoholic beverages can be sold;
  • Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI): All states make it a crime to drive while intoxicated by alcohol or drug. It is also a crime in most states to drive with an open container of alcohol in the car.
  • Licenses to Sell and Serve Alcohol: In all states, a person must have a license to sell or serve alcoholic beverages. It can be challenging to obtain a license to sell or serve alcohol. In Minnesota, the requirements for obtaining a license are as follows:
    • A person must be of good moral character;
    • A person must be 21 years of age or older;
    • A person must not have had a license revoked within the prior 5 years;
    • A person must not have been convicted of a felony within the prior five years or of a willful violation of a federal or state law or local ordinance governing the manufacture, sale, distribution, or possession for sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages;
    • The Minnesota agency that enforces the licensing process, the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, may require the person who wants to obtain a license to provide a set of fingerprints that may be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a criminal history check;
  • Consumption of Alcohol in Public: Many states ban carrying open containers of alcohol in public or consuming alcohol in public. Many more ban carrying an open container in a motor vehicle. For example, in Texas, carrying an open container in public is not against the law, but cities can ban it if they wish.

There is a wide range of possible consequences for violating liquor laws. The consequences will depend on the law violated and the state or locality in which the law is violated. Violations of liquor laws can result in various legal penalties, including a fine or a citation. Some more serious violations can result in a misdemeanor criminal charge, which may also be punishable by imprisonment for up to a year in jail and payment of a fine.

A business that violates liquor laws may temporarily or permanently lose its liquor license. This often occurs when a business is caught selling alcohol to minors. Or the business may be required to check the driver’s license of every customer who wants to purchase alcoholic beverages for some time.

Who Can Be Civilly Liable for Violations of Liquor Laws?

Many states have laws that provide that “social hosts” are responsible for underage drinking events on their property, e.g., in their homes. The social host is liable if a guest becomes intoxicated and ends up causing injury to a third party.

Social host liability is similar to the liability imposed by dram shop laws. The difference is that dram shop laws impose liability only on commercial sellers of alcoholic beverages, such as bars, taverns, liquor stores, and restaurants. Social host liability can be imposed on anyone who provides alcoholic beverages to guests or visitors if, after consuming alcohol on the host’s property, the guest or visitor injures someone while intoxicated.

Most states have dram shop laws, but not all have social host liability laws. A “first party” social host liability case arises when the person injured is the same person who was given the alcoholic drinks. Most states do not impose first-party social host liability unless the injured person is a minor.

A “third party” social host liability case arises when the injured person is someone other than the intoxicated person. So, if a person becomes intoxicated at a private social event and then causes an accident that injures another person, the injured person would potentially have a case for liability against the third-party social host who served alcohol at the party. But this would depend on the law in the state where the events occurred.

If a person often hosts social events on their property where they serve alcohol, they may want to consult a personal injury lawyer about whether there are social host liability laws in the state in which they live, and the repercussions of social host liability in their state can be.

Are There Federal Laws Relating to Alcohol?

In addition to state laws on various topics, the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act), enforced by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (ATTTB), regulates the production, importation, and wholesaling of alcoholic beverages. The ATTTB is an agency of the federal Department of the Treasury.

Some of the federal regulations in the FAA Act are as follows:

  • Anyone who is engaged in the business of alcohol production, importation, or wholesaling must have a permit. The ATTTB enforces this requirement and has the authority to issue, suspend, and revoke permits. Of course, alcoholic beverages produced without a permit are commonly known as “moonshine;”
  • The ATTTB works to prevent people from entering the trade in alcoholic beverages if they are not likely to operate in compliance with the law;
  • To protect consumers, FAA Act mandates that labeling and advertising of alcoholic beverages provide information to the consumer about the identity and quality of the product;
  • Bottlers and importers of alcoholic beverages must obtain an approved certificate of label approval or an exemption certificate before they may sell their products in the U. S.

The FAA Act also bans unfair trade practices and regulates the marketing of alcoholic beverages.

Are There Any Defenses to Liquor Law Violations?

Whether a person charged with violating a liquor law has any defenses depends on the facts in each case and the law involved. Several different defenses are possible, such as mistakes in police procedures. Generally, violations can be civil or criminal. If a violation is civil only, the punishment is usually a fine or the loss of a license or permit for some time.

If the offense is criminal, the punishment is usually the imposition of a fine or a term of imprisonment in a county jail or, for a serious offense, e.g., a third or fourth DUI conviction, in state prison. Any of the defenses usually available in a criminal case would be available in a criminal case involving alcoholic beverages.

Some liquor law violations are strict liability violations, meaning that the person might be held liable simply for the action, regardless of their knowledge or intentions. An example of this is the sale of alcohol to minors, which can be punished even if the shop owner did not know the person was a minor.

If a person has been sued in a civil lawsuit because of negligence involving alcoholic beverages, they would have the standard defenses available in a civil lawsuit.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Liquor Laws?

Liquor laws can sometimes involve complex legal concepts. Also, liquor laws can be very different from state to state. You may wish to consult a qualified criminal defense lawyer if you have been charged with a criminal offense involving alcoholic beverages.

Your attorney can provide you with legal advice based on the law in your state. Your attorney can also represent you if you need to participate in a criminal proceeding, e.g., a trial.

If you want to obtain a liquor license or are at risk of having a license revoked, you want to consult an administrative hearing lawyer who is experienced in dealing with administrative agencies that regulate licenses of this type.

If you have been sued on a theory of social host liability, you want to consult a personal injury lawyer.

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