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Though each state charges its own penalties, the legal drinking age in all 50 states is 21 years. This is true whether a minor buys alcohol from a bar or retail establishment. Any person selling alcohol to a minor commits a crime, and ignorance of the buyer's age offers no protection. Statute requires bartenders, servers, and retail cashiers to request proof of age before selling anyone alcohol.
Establishments that sell alcohol require special licensing in most states. Depending on the state, selling alcohol to a minor may result in two separate penalties, one levied against the business and one against the employee responsible for completing the sale.
What are the Penalties for Selling Alcohol to Minors?
Most states classify the charge of selling alcohol to a minor as a misdemeanor and punishment for a conviction vary widely. Possible penalties include incarceration, fines, probation, and the business responsible for the sale losing its liquor license.
Will I Go To Jail For Selling Alcohol to Minors?
Most states classify selling alcohol to minors as a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in a local jail. Actually receiving jail time for this charge is rare. However, if the minor in question is under 18 years of age, many states classify this as a Class 1 misdemeanor. This carries a 12-month maximum sentence. If you are convicted of this charge, chances of serving at least some jail time are much greater. Mitigating and aggravating factors influence the sentence defendants receive.
What Are The Fines For Selling Alcohol to Minors?
The most common punishment for defendants convicted of selling alcohol to a minor, fine amounts vary widely based on the state and age of the minor, as well as other aggravating or mitigating factors (such as first offense or multiple offenses). Common amounts range from $500 to several thousand dollars for each violation. Financial penalties may be levied against both the clerk or server as well as the establishment in which the incident occurred. The business may accrue additional fines if it is proven that the employee did not receive state-mandated training.
Will I Get Probation?
Someone found guilty of selling alcohol to a minor may be given probation, either in lieu of or in addition to a period of incarceration. Common probation terms are six to 12 months, though shorter or longer periods may be imposed. If you receive probation, you must meet regularly with your probation officer as well as comply with any other requirements dictated by the court. Failure to comply with the terms of probation typically results in incarceration.
Revocation of Liquor License
States provide liquor licenses to businesses that either sell or serve alcohol. A conviction of selling alcohol to a minor may include revocation of your liquor license. Additional penalties vary from state to state. We look at California, Nevada, and Texas for an idea of how widely these penalties vary.
Penalties in California
Minors in California who are convicted of either underage drinking or purchasing alcohol receive fines of $250 plus 24 to 32 hours of community service. Subsequent violations receive fines of $500 and 36 to 48 hours of community service.
Businesses found guilty of selling alcohol to a minor face these same penalties. Additionally, their first conviction may come with a 15-day liquor license suspension. Two convictions within three years receive a 25-day suspension, and three convictions result in license revocation.
Penalties in Nevada
Furnishing alcohol to a minor is a misdemeanor in Nevada. Conviction may include penalties of up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. Additionally, saloon-keepers who allow a minor to remain on the premises face a $500 fine.
Nevada also classifies as a misdemeanor anyone who sells alcohol online without provisions that prevent selling to minors. The penalty for this is $500.
Penalties in Texas
Texas classifies selling alcohol to an underage person as a Class A misdemeanor. Penalties for conviction include up to 12 months of jail time, fines of up to $4,000, and suspending driving privileges for up to 180 days.
Additional penalties may be leveled against the minor who purchased the alcohol. This is a Class C misdemeanor charge and conviction includes a $500 fine, up to 40 hours of community service, loss of driving privileges for up to 180 days, and mandatory attendance of an alcohol awareness class.