In California, it is a misdemeanor offense to sell or furnish alcohol to a minor (someone under the state legal drinking age of 21). Penalties typically include $250 to $1000 in fines and 24 to 32 hours of community service.
State law also prohibits minors under 21 from purchasing alcohol or consuming it on the premises of a
- restaurant, or
The penalties are set forth in this table:
|California BP § 25658 crime ||Misdemeanor Penalties|
|Alcohol vendor permitting underage drinking on the premises|| |
|Selling or giving alcohol to an underage person||If the minor’s drinking results in great bodily harm or death to anyone: |
|An underage person buying alcohol or consuming it on the premises||First offense: |
Second or subsequent offense:
Below, our California criminal defense attorneys1 explain what it means to furnish alcohol to a minor by addressing
- 1. Is it a crime to furnish alcohol to a minor in California?
- 2. What are some examples?
- 3. How can a person fight the charges?
- 4. What are the penalties?
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
California Business and Professions Code 25658 regulates the sale of alcohol in California. This law makes it a crime to
- furnish (that is, sell, provide or give) — or causing to be sold, furnished, or given away — any alcoholic beverage to a person under the age of 21;
- being a person under 21 and either
- b) consuming a
- n alcoholic beverage (underage drinking) in a place where alcohol is sold; and/or
- a) purchasing an alcoholic beverage, or
- being an on-sale licensee and permitting a person who is under 21 to consume any alcoholic beverage on the premises, even if the licensee doesn’t have actual knowledge that the individual is under 21 years of age.2
Although there are a variety of ways to violate Business and Professions Code 25658, there are a couple of violations that are more common than others. These include undercover operations designed to “catch”
- individuals who furnish alcohol to minors, and
- underage individuals who try to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages.
One of the most common ways to violate California’s “furnishing alcohol to a minor” law is to buy alcohol for a person under 21. This violation frequently occurs at grocery or liquor stores near college campuses.
An underage individual will give you money and ask that you please buy him/her some alcohol. Believing this is really “no big deal” you agree and make the purchase. As you return the alcohol to the minor, the cops “bust” you because either
- they were using the minor as one of their agents – or a youthful-looking officer in an undercover sting type of operation, or
- they observed you furnishing the alcohol to the minor.
In fact, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) has announced that beginning in January 2011 it will be providing money to local law enforcement agencies that employ these types of undercover operations.
The “shoulder tap” program uses these undercover officers or “agents” to approach unsuspecting individuals in an effort to have them buy alcohol.
The second common practice used to arrest people for violating California’s “furnishing alcohol to a minor” law is through a program known as “Operation Trapdoor”.
This program, which began in 1999, targets people who are under 21 who attempt to use fake or fraudulent driver’s licenses or identification (“I.D.”) cards to gain entrance into bars/nightclubs and/or who try to purchase alcoholic beverages.
ABC licensees (that is, bars, nightclubs, liquor stores, etc.) contact law enforcement when they have an underage individual who they suspect is trying to use a fake or fraudulent I.D. The bartender or “bouncer” stalls the individual while law enforcement responds either to question or arrest the minor.
Depending on the circumstances, the underage suspect faces charges for
- Penal Code 470a PC California’s law against forging or counterfeiting a driver’s license or I.D. card,3
- Penal Code 470b PC California’s law against possession of a fake driver’s license or identification card,4 and/or
- Vehicle Code 13004 VC California’s law against using someone else’s identification card.5
Fortunately, there are a variety of legal defenses to Business and Professions Code 25658 California’s law against furnishing alcohol to a minor that a California criminal defense lawyer could present on your behalf. These include:
- Mistake of Fact; and/or
- Additional Statutory Exemptions.
Perhaps the most common is based on a mistake of fact.6 What’s interesting about this defense is that “mistake of fact” is not historically a defense that applies to strict liability offenses such as furnishing alcohol to a minor.7
A “strict liability” offense is one where the prosecution doesn’t need to prove that the defendant had criminal intent in order to secure a conviction. Business and Professions Code 25658 is a strict liability offense. This is because the prosecution does not need to prove that the defendant knew the individual to whom he/she provided alcohol was underage. The judge/jury can convict the defendant of this offense regardless of that knowledge.
However, there is a modern trend nevertheless to allow a defendant to raise a mistake of fact defense in this type of case where an honest and reasonable belief may justify the defendant’s conduct.8 (The same is true of the very similar offense of furnishing dangerous fireworks to a minor, where an honest and reasonable belief that the minor was of age can serve as a defense, or an offense like mislabeling food for sale, where a reasonable belief that the food was correctly labeled can serve as a defense.)
As San Jose criminal defense attorney Cameron Bowman9 explains, “This means that if the judge/jury believes that the defendant honestly and reasonably thought that the minor was of legal drinking age, they could choose to acquit the defendant of the charge.”
There are a couple of additional defenses that are written into the law.
California Business and Professions Code 25660 is a defense that is also based on a mistake of fact. If you are a licensee and either sell alcohol to a minor or allow a minor to consume alcohol on your premises, you may be absolved of criminal liability if you did so because you reasonably relied on bona fide (that is, “genuine”) government-issued I.D. cards such as a
The card itself doesn’t actually have to be government-issued, it can be forged or fake. The critical determination is whether you reasonably believed that it was, in fact, a true government-issued form of identification.
If you inspected the I.D. and it looked as if it were genuine, you would be exempt from prosecution and/or an Alcoholic Beverage Control license suspension/revocation. However, if the I.D. did not appear to be genuine, you would still face liability for this crime.11
Example: A liquor store clerk checked a minor’s I.D. as he purchased two 6 packs of beer. The clerk neither removed the I.D. card nor asked the minor to remove the I.D. from his wallet where it was partially concealed behind a plastic window. The card purported to be a California I.D. card that was issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Had the clerk removed the card, she would have seen that the card
- had no magnetic strip on the back,
- had print that was typewritten instead of computer generated,
- had a raised photo which was separately attached instead of one that was computer generated as a part of the card, and
- that the colors on the card were actually different than those that appear on California issued I.D. cards.
As a result, the clerk was held liable for selling alcohol to a minor because the court could not conclude that she reasonably relied on a bona fide identification card.12
California Business and Professions Code 25667 provides that you are immune from criminal prosecution if you are under 21 and purchase or consume an alcoholic beverage when
- you call 911 to report that either you or another person needs medical attention due to alcohol consumption,
- you are the first person to make the 911 report,
- you remain at the scene until the medical assistance arrives and cooperate with the medical assistants and/or law enforcement who arrived, AND
- neither you nor the other minor was involved in an activity that was dangerous because of the alcohol consumption, such as violating Vehicle Code 23140 VC being under 21 and driving under the influence.13
If you meet all of the above criteria, you should be acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing.
Violating Business and Professions Code 25658 – California’s “furnishing alcohol to a minor” law – is a misdemeanor. The penalties for furnishing alcohol to a minor vary depending on the exact circumstances that surround your case.
Business & Professions Code 25658 offense
California Misdemeanor Penalties
|Selling or giving alcohol to a minor under 21, and the minor’s drinking does not cause great bodily injury or death to anyone|| |
|Selling or giving alcohol to a minor under 21, and the minor’s drinking proximately causes great bodily injury or death to the minor or anyone else|| |
|An on-sale licensee permitting a minor under 21 years to consume alcohol in the on-sale premises|| |
|Minors under 21 who buy alcohol or consume it at an on-sale premises||First offense: |
Second or subsequent offense:
Selling or giving alcohol to a minor carries a $1,000 fine and at least 24 hours of community service. But if the minor consumes the alcohol and then causes great bodily injury or death to him/herself or someone else, the defendant faces a $1,000 fine and/or six months to one year in jail.15
In addition to or in lieu of this criminal charge, prosecutors could charge defendants with violating Penal Code 272 PC California’s “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” law. If convicted of this offense, defendants face a maximum of one year of jail time and a maximum fine of $2,500.16
Along these same lines, when parents or legal guardians knowingly allow their child and/or another child who is under 18 years old to consume an alcoholic beverage or controlled substance in their home, they face a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in the county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine if:
- as the result of the alcohol and/or drug use, the child (a) was under the influence of the drug(s), or (b) had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05% or greater,
- they allowed their child or the other underage person to drive a car, AND
- the child or the other minor caused a traffic accident.17
People convicted of being under 21 when they either (1) purchased an alcoholic beverage, or (2) consumed an alcoholic beverage in a place where alcohol is sold, must pay a $250 fine and/or perform 24 to 32 hours of community service. And a second or subsequent violation carries up to $500 in fines and/or 36 to 48 hours of community service.18
If possible, the community service will be performed at an alcohol or drug treatment facility or at a county coroner’s office.
Additionally, defendants between the ages of 13 and 21 at the time of the offense face a one-year driver’s license suspension. For defendants who have not yet obtained a driver’s license, their ability to drive will be postponed for one year from the date that they are otherwise eligible to obtain a license. And subsequent violations will result in an additional one-year suspension or delay.19
People convicted of being an on-sale licensee (like at a bar or restaurant) and permitting an underage person to drink on the licensed premises – even if they did not know that the person was under 21 – face a $250 fine and/or 24 to 32 hours of community service.20
Additionally, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) may suspend the defendant’s alcohol license for 15 days following the first conviction. A second conviction within a 36-month period will result in a 25-day suspension. A third conviction will result in a license revocation.21 For a first or second conviction, licensees may petition the ABC to pay a fine in lieu of serving the alcohol license suspension.22
For additional help…
If you or a loved one is facing a charge of furnishing alcohol to a minor and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in the office or by phone. We create attorney-client relationships throughout the state. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California. We will fight your charges in attempt to keep your criminal record clean.
Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee future results.
Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions about Nevada’s laws regarding selling or furnishing alcohol to a minor (NRS 202.055). For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.23
- Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
- California Business and Professions Code 25658 — California’s “furnishing alcohol to a minor” law. See also Vehicle Code 13202.5 VC and CALCRIM 2962.
- California Penal Code 470a PC — Forgery or counterfeiting of driver’s license or identification card; intent; punishment.
- California Penal Code 470b PC — Displaying or possessing a forged or counterfeit driver’s license or identification card.
- California Vehicle Code 13004 VC — Unlawful acts.
- California Jury Instructions – Criminal (CALJIC 4.35) — Ignorance or mistake of fact as a California legal defense.
- In re Jennings (2004) 34 Cal.4th 254, 277-278.
- See same at 280. (“As in Vogel, supra, 46 Cal.2d 798, 299 P.2d 850, we conclude that, although the prosecution need not prove an offender’s knowledge of age in order to establish a violation of section 25658(c), petitioner was entitled to raise an affirmative defense, for which he would bear the burden of proof, that he honestly and reasonably believed Turpin was at least 21 years old. Recognizing the viability of a mistake of fact defense is consistent with the modern trend away from strict liability for criminal offenses as well as with Penal Code section 20 and the statutory scheme of which Business and Professions Code section 25658(c) is but a part.”)
- San Jose criminal defense attorney Cameron Bowman defends clients throughout Northern California which includes (but is not limited to) the Santa Clara, Contra Costra, San Francisco and Alameda County courthouses.
- California Business and Professions Code 25660 — Bonafide evidence of majority and identity; Armed Forces members; defense to criminal prosecutions.
- Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control v. Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Bd. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 1429, 1437. (“We conclude that section 25660 does apply to fake ID’s which purport to be government issued. But the Department ALJ found, as a question of fact, there was no reasonable reliance on the particular ID in this case.”)
- See same at 1434.
- CALIFORNIA 2010 LEGISLATIVE SERVICE – 2010 Portion of 2009-2010 Regular Session – CHAPTER 245 – A.B. No. 1999 – ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES–UNDERAGE DRINKERS–IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION.
- California Business and Professions Code 25658, subsection (e)(2)
- See same, subdivision (e)(3). (“(3) Any person who violates subdivision (c) shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a minimum term of six months not to exceed one year, by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.”)
- California Penal Code 272 PC — Contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
- California Business and Professions Code 25658.2
- California Business and Professions Code 25658, subdivision (e)(1)
- California Vehicle Code 13202.5 — Drug and alcohol-related offenses by person under age of 21, but aged 13 or over; suspension, delay, or restriction of driving privileges.
- See endnote 18, above.
- California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s “Penalty Guidelines”.
- California Business and Professions Code 23095
- Please feel free to contact our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys Michael Becker and Neil Shouse for any questions relating to Nevada’s laws regarding contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Our Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.