Selling alcoholic beverages to minors is against the law and can expose operators to a range of legal penalties even when the sale is inadvertent. To combat against this restaurants and bars are creating policies on checking identification. Here are some practical tips for how to check IDs and learn the legal ramifications of when sales are made to minors.
Sales to minors have the potential to involve three levels of risk for an establishment. First, there is a risk of a regulatory citation from the governing state or local alcohol beverage agency. Depending on the jurisdiction, a citation could result in an operation’s liquor license suspension or revocation. Next, there is a risk of a civil lawsuit if an underage person has been served and injures him or herself or a third party. And lastly, criminal charges may be filed against the individual who served the minor. To avoid all of these potential consequences, having a documented system for checking IDs is critical. Staff should be trained in checking IDs. Bars and restaurants should adopt standard policies for ID checking and avoiding service to minors.
Defenses available for operators in the event a sale to a minor occurs vary by jurisdiction. Some states allow defenses for employees of retailers whose acceptance of a fake ID was reasonable. An example of a “reasonable” acceptance of a fake ID is acceptance of an ID having a picture which bore a visual resemblance to the person who presented it (e.g., the individual and the photograph appeared to match by age, gender, race and physical appearance), the ID bore a reasonable resemblance to a state issued or government issued ID from the jurisdiction where the fake ID was purportedly issued and the birth date on the fake ID indicated that the individual was over 21. Many states do not have a specific regulatory provision for this “reasonableness” defense; however, these kinds of facts, if present, may nevertheless provide a defense in the event of a citation, criminal charge or lawsuit.
The enforcement divisions of state alcohol beverage control boards and related agencies normally police sales to minors. Some states authorize sting programs to prevent sales to minors. Many such sting programs use minor individuals who will present fake IDs in order to test restaurant staff while an enforcement agent waits nearby. In most cases, any citations flowing from the sting operations will hold up as long as the sting operations are conducted legally and do not involve unconstitutional entrapment of the operator or its employees.
Sales of alcoholic beverages to minors are illegal in every state. Sales to minors increase operators’ exposure to criminal, civil and regulatory liability. Operators should take steps to make sure that employees are trained on the proper checking of IDs so as to comply with the laws of governing jurisdictions.
• Establish check points for carding; first at the door, then at the bar and possibly in another part of the licensed premises, depending on the size of the location.
• To make ID checks faster and easier for employees, keep a posting available for those who check IDs which identifies the birth date after which customers are 21 years old.
• Instruct staff to accept only government-issued forms of picture ID, such as driver’s licenses, military ID cards or passports.
• Do not accept college IDs as identification as these can be easily manipulated.
• At a minimum, become familiar with safeguards against fraud on driver’s licenses in your state. Learn if they contain a hologram or other device to prevent fraud and make sure all employees are trained on how to recognize that feature on the license.