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ABCs of ABC License Defense (Part I)

Liquor licenses are regulated by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. A person or entity licensed to sell alcohol at a restaurant (License Type 41), liquor store (License Types 20 and 21) or other business must comply with ABC laws and regulations. Failure to do so can result in disciplinary action by the ABC Department up to and including revocation of a license. This is the first post in the two-part “ABCs of ABC License Defense” series discussing the basics of ABC proceedings involving a licensee accused of selling alcohol to a minor, in violation of ABC law.

What is an Accusation?

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control investigates violations at premises licensed to sell alcohol in California. The investigation may include sending undercover agents to the licensed premises or responding to a complaint by a customer or a neighboring business. If the investigation uncovers one or more violations involving the liquor license, charges against the licensee are likely to follow. The charges will be stated in a document called, “Accusation,” which will be served on the licensee. The Accusation will contain the charges, or counts, asserted against the licensee, a statement of facts supporting the counts, and any prior history of discipline against the licensee.

When the ABC Department sends the Accusation to the California licensee, other documents relevant to the ABC proceeding are generally included in the package. Among the documents included are a Request for Discovery, which ask the licensee to identify witnesses and produce pertinent documents, and a settlement offer.

What is a Decoy Operation?

A decoy operation is a method designed to investigate whether a licensee is selling alcohol to minors. A decoy is an individual under the age of 20 years of age who is deployed by law enforcement to purchase alcohol at a convenient store, restaurant, or other licensed premises in California. During the sting operation, a decoy is usually sent to various licensed premises within close vicinity, with law enforcement nearby. According to the ABC Department, the Minor Decoy Program has decreased the percentage of licensees selling alcohol to minors throughout California.

A licensee who is cited for selling to a minor as part of a decoy program may have grounds for challenging a charge of sale to minor (decoy). For example, the sale to a decoy may be challenged if the decoy did not appear to be under 21 years of age, did not answer truthfully about his or her own age, or could not make a face-to-face identification of the alleged seller of the alcoholic beverage.

What are my Options After an Accusation is Filed?

There are many options available to a licensee after an Accusation is filed. Remember, the Accusation does not mean the licensee is guilty of a violation, only that the ABC has “accused” the licensee of a violation.

One option is to accept the settlement offer submitted from the ABC Department with the Accusation.

Another option is to negotiate a settlement with the ABC. Often, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is willing to negotiate. For example, a liquor store in Long Beach, California may be able to negotiate a shorter suspension of the liquor license if the licensee can prove “mitigating” factors to reduce the penalty, such as no prior disciplinary action against the store. The licensee can also petition for a fine in lieu of suspension if appropriate.

A third option is to proceed with the hearing on the ABC Accusation. When settlement is not palatable, the parties must resolve the dispute at a hearing.

Cerritos ABC License Defense Lawyer Yashdeep “Jesse” Singh is experienced at defending against Accusations that involve a claim for sale to minor (decoy) and other ABC law violations, including at ABC Hearings. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation, 714-494-6244.

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