Retail licensees should step-up ID practices to avoid violations during the recently announced state-wide multi-agency compliance enforcement effort. The police can issue a criminal summons to appear in criminal court and that same report can be used again by the State Liquor Authority to issue disciplinary violations against your license. “Double dipping” is legal and common.
The private industry trade associations are joining forces with government agencies to raise awareness of underage drinking and increase compliance with state laws that prohibit alcoholic beverage sales to minor sunder age 21 and to visibly intoxicated persons. Liquor Authority fines are substantial – ranging between $1,500 and $10,000 per violation with the following fines most commonly given by the State Liquor Authority for first offenses: buyer age 16-19 $3,500, buyer age 19 $3,000, buyer age 16 or under $5,000. Licensees with a clean record who have been in business at least 5 years may be offered a $500 reduction in the fine. Liquor and wine store fine are at least $500 higher. Sale to an intoxicated person receives a fine of $2,500 for a first offense. A $500 reduction is possible for businesses more than 5 years in operation without a violation.
A retailer’s responsibility goes further than simply verifying the purchaser’s identification. The retailer must take note of the situation surrounding the purchase and the apparent signs that alcoholic beverage may be consumed by underage minors. For example, if a group of teenagers appear together when shopping or purchasing an alcoholic beverage, a retailer should verify the ID of everyone in the group to prevent a straw purchaser over 21 purchasing alcohol for minors. If there is clearly someone waiting outside or in the car, the retailer should consider refusing the sale unless he or she can verify the ID of the other person.
Retailers should consider refreshing employee training on detecting fake IDs and over-consumption. With teenagers constantly evolving in ways to cheat the system, annual updates on current trends and best practices is a wise investment for any business owner selling alcoholic beverages. In some circumstances, such training can lead to a reduction in fines assessed for violations relating to underage sales. If you do find yourself the unfortunate recipient of a ticket for underage sales, hiring an attorney can ensure excessive penalties are not assessed and that the allegations are substantiated by relevant and probative evidence. When your livelihood is on the line, it is not the time to take a do-it-yourself approach to defending violations.