If you or a loved one was recently cited in a sting operation for selling or giving alcohol to a minor (defined as someone under age 21), you probably are surprised to know that it is a misdemeanor and not a mere ticket that can be resolved by paying a fine. Indeed, this crime, defined at California Business & Professions Code § 25658(a), is more serious than many realize.
About This Article Briefly: Furnishing alcohol to a minor is seen by prosecutors as a relatively serious misdemeanor, as minors often do not have the maturity to drink responsibly and often are affected by alcohol far more than an adult, so it is more dangerous if they drink. The punishment for a violation of 25658(a) varies with how the alcohol was furnished, the client’s age, the facts of the case and the client’s prior criminal history, if any.
There are two basic situations where a violation of 25658(a) can happen. We have handled both situations. The first situation is where a police officer will use an obviously fake I.D. to try to buy alcohol, or even admit that they are underage, and the bartender or store owner (i.e. a 7-Eleven, supermarket or liquor store) sells the person alcohol anyways. The undercover cop then takes the alcohol, walks out of the store and uniformed officers walk in to issue a citation.
The second situation is where a person over 21 years old buys alcohol for himself or herself, usually in a bar (the Avalon in Downtown Los Angeles is a common place where such tickets are issued) and then hands the drink to someone under 21. Undercover police officers then approach the legal-age person and issue a citation.
As a misdemeanor, the charge carries with it punishment that varies by what happens as a result of the alcohol. If the minor consumes the alcohol and causes great bodily injury or death to himself or herself, or another, the provider of the alcohol faces a minimum six-month county jail sentence to a maximum of one year and a $1,000 fine, plus penalties and assessments (total of about $4,500). The “furnisher” also most likely faces civil litigation with possible punitive damages exposure.
If the minor does not cause great bodily injury or death to another, the “furnisher” faces no jail, but must perform 24 hours of community service in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation center or a county coroner’s office, plus pay a fine of up to $1,000 (plus penalties and assessments that can boost the total owed to approximately $4,500).
If the minor is under 18 and your son or daughter and you allow this juvenile to consume alcohol in your home, separate punishment is specified under 25658(a). If the child then drives a car and gets in a traffic accident and had a BAC of 0.05% or higher, the provider of the alcohol in his or her home faces up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 (plus penalties and assessments that can boost the total owed to approximately $4,500). This is the scenario where the “cool parent” allows his or her kids and their friends to drink in the home under the naïve expectation that no one will later drive.
If someone is a bartender or employee of a business that serves alcohol and serves the minor alcohol who then consumes it, even if he or she does not know the person is under 21, that person faces a $250 fine (plus penalties and assessments that raise the total owed to about $1,300), as well as the obligation to perform 24 to 32 hours of community service in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation center or a county coroner’s office. For a second violation, the server faces up to a $500 fine (about $2,550 in total owed), plus 36 to 48 hours of community service in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation center or a county coroner’s office.
When a client or potential client calls us about being charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor, we usually think of having the client enroll in and take the LEAD (Licensing and Education on Alcohol and Drugs) class, which is a free class that many judges quickly recognize as a positive step.
The class gives a test at the end and if one passes, that person is mailed a nice certificate of completion that can be shown to the DA and the judge for mitigation of punishment.
For more information about cases involving minors, please click on the following articles:
- What Is Sales to Minors – for Alcohol? For Tobacco?
- What Is Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor (PC 272)?
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol - What Happens?