Providing alcohol to minors is a criminal offense, and if convicted, a defendant can face jail time, a fine and will have a criminal record. In addition, local cities and counties are enacting their own “social host” ordinances, in an attempt to reduce underage drinking.
California Underage Alcohol Laws
Under California law, anyone who sells, furnishes, or gives any alcoholic beverage to any person under 21 is guilty of a misdemeanor. It is also a misdemeanor for a minor to purchase alcohol, or to consume any alcohol in a bar or restaurant. It is also unlawful for an on-site licensee to knowingly allows someone under 21 years old to consume any alcoholic beverage, even if they didn't know the person was under 21 years of age.
Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor Penalties
Under California BC 25658, the penalties for furnishing alcohol to a minor could include community service time, for a minimum of 24 hours, intended to be served at an alcohol or drug treatment facility, or the county coroner's office. In addition, a conviction could result in a $1,000 fine. A second or subsequent violation can result in additional hours of community service.
The penalties are increased if the minor then consumes the alcohol and then causes an accident. This applies when minor caused an accident where a person suffers great bodily injury or death, even if the injury was to the minor themselves. Penalties could include up to a year in jail, in addition to any fines.
In some cases, a social host who allows an obviously intoxicated minor to drink may even face civil liability damages if the minor then injures someone else.
How Police Detect Underage Alcohol Sale
Police can use undercover operations to investigate violations of furnishing alcohol to minors. This can include the use of underage agents to apprehend people furnishing alcohol. For example, the police may use a person who is not yet 21 years old to ask someone to buy them alcohol. This could involve a young person standing outside a convenience store to ask a customer to purchase alcohol on their behalf. If the customer then buys alcohol for the minor, police will appear to arrest the individual.
In other cases, the police may use minors to attempt to buy alcohol from the shops themselves. They may try and get the cashier or owner to give them alcohol without an ID, or with a fake ID.
County and City Social Host Ordinances
California does not currently have a specific law aimed at the social hosts of gatherings where alcohol is consumed by minors. In an attempt to stop underage drinking, some localities are creating their own laws where state law doesn't necessarily apply. A number of city and counties are looking to create their own ordinances aimed at preventing minors from getting access to alcohol. Contra Costa County, and other East Bay cities such as Berkeley, have enacted regulations which make it a violation or misdemeanor for parents when underage drinking takes place during events at their homes.
For example, Berkeley's Social Host Ordinance 13.49 provides that it is unlawful for any person to permit, allow or host a gathering where alcoholic beverages have been consumed by a minor, if they knew or reasonably should have known a minor consumed alcohol. It is punishable as a violation, or as a misdemeanor if the citing officer observes egregious violations or aggravating circumstances.
The Social Host Ordinance for all unincorporated areas of Contra Costa provides for a up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Defenses to Furnishing Alcohol to Minors
Defenses to furnishing alcohol to minors will depend on the individual case. For these reasons, it is important to find an experienced and knowledgeable local attorney who specializes in DUI and alcohol related criminal defense. One possible defense could include a reasonable belief that a government issued I.D. was legitimate and showed the person to be over the age of 21. The right lawyer will do a full investigation into your case, to give you every option, and defend your rights and keep you out of jail.
East Bay DUI Defense Attorney:
If you were cited or arrested for furnishing alcohol to a minor, you may not know where to turn. Whether you were arrested in El Cerrito, Concord or Richmond; or charged with a social host ordinance violation in Berkeley, Dublin or Hayward, you need to speak to an experienced East Bay DUI defense lawyer. Lynn Gorelick has over 30 years of DUI and alcohol-related defense experience, and understands the risks and penalties involved with these charges. If you are facing possible conviction for furnishing alcohol to a minor anywhere in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local laws, and the local officers and prosecutors involved.