This week's question comes from Sunil in Oakland, who asks:
Q: “I work at a convenience store. My boss sells alcohol without checking IDs and told me I didn't need to check either. When I have said I don't want to sell them alcohol, he tells me not to be such a baalek [baby]. I am worried because I don't want to go to jail. What is the law on this? I want to show him so that I don't have to sell it to minors and so he stops, too.”
A: Sunil, thank you for writing. Hopefully the answer to your question will help you with your situation and, also, help others working in stores where alcohol is sold to reinforce the severe consequences associated with the sale of alcohol to underage patrons.
Pursuant to California's Business and Professions Code Section 25658, it is unlawful to sell alcoholic beverage to a minor.
Although the Family Code states that the age of minority ends at 18 years of age, for the purposes of the sale and consumption of alcohol, Section 25658 places the age of majority at 21.
Section 25658 states that every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished or given away any alcoholic beverage to any person under 21 years of age is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Likewise, the law provides that any person under 21 years of age who purchases any alcoholic beverage, or any person under 21 years of age who consumes any alcoholic beverage in any on-sale premises is also guilty of a misdemeanor.
The law places the burden of carding patrons on the owner of the establishment. For example, bars and restaurants (on-sale licensee) that knowingly permit a person under 21 years of age to consume any alcoholic beverage on their premises, whether or not the licensee has knowledge that the person is under 21 years of age, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
A first offense by an on-sale licensee is punishable by a fine of $250 or by performance of 24 to 32 hours of community service. Subsequent offenses shall be punished by a fine of $500 or between 36 and 40 hours of community service.
Furnishing an alcoholic beverage, or causing an alcoholic beverage to be furnished, to a minor is punished by a fine of $1,000 and the person shall be required to perform not less than 24 hours of community service hours.
The intent of the community service obligation is to work in a drug or alcohol treatment program or a county coroner's office. If you buy alcohol for, or give alcohol to, a minor you can be fined $1,000 and face between six months to a year in jail.
Additionally, if you are providing alcohol to those under 18, you may be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor under Penal Code Section 275. Under Section 275, there is a potential for imprisonment of up to one year in jail and a fine of as much as $2,500.
Given the strength and importance of California's wine and spirits industry, the Legislature in July carved out an exception to Section 25658 by adding Section 25668 allowing a student over 18, to taste alcohol as long as they are enrolled in an accredited public college or university that has an associate's or bachelor's degree program in enology (winemaking) or brewing that is designed to train industry professionals in the production of wine or beer.
The law defines the word “taste” as meaning to draw an alcoholic beverage into the mouth, but does not include swallowing or otherwise consuming the alcoholic beverage. So, while it is legal for a student to smell, swish and taste, drinking it down is still illegal.
Sunil, you should be aware that law enforcement uses persons under 21 to apprehend licensees, employees or agents of licensees, or other persons who sell or furnish alcoholic beverages to minors. In order for such a decoy program to be considered lawful, the minor decoy must have the appearance of a person under 21 years of age.
Finally, a cause of action may be brought by or on behalf of any person who has suffered injury or death against any person licensed, or required to be licensed, who sold, furnished or gave any alcoholic beverage to any obviously intoxicated minor where the furnishing, sale or giving of that beverage to the minor is the cause of the personal injury or death sustained by that person.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.