Given the recent spike of underage drinking, fake ID, and other related charges written in Monmouth County and Ocean County, it is not surprising that liquor license owners, bartenders, and managers are worried. There is a heightened need among owners to hire bouncers, off-duty police officers, and experienced individuals to check ID's at the door and at the bar because the penalties to the New Jersey liquor license owner for a violation of selling to an underage person can be quite stringent.
In a recent article, a Liquor License owner in New Jersey faced charges of selling alcohol to minors. According to one source, the owner's retail liquor store was known around town as the “easy” store to get alcohol if you are under age. Given its reputation, local government and law enforcement officers were understandably engaged and concerned and stepped in to persuade the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to crack down hard on the owner. Because of the attention given to the case, it was discovered that the owner's establishment had two prior incidents involving the sale of alcohol to minors. It was also discovered that the New Jersey ABC allowed the owner to pay a fine instead of imposing a license suspension.
According to New Jersey Administrative Code (N.J.A.C.), the NJ ABC Director has some discretion in how to approach this type of charge. According to N.J.A.C. 13:2-23.1(a), a liquor license owner has 30 days to enter a plea to the charges. If the 30-day period passes without a plea or reasonable request for an extension, the Director can impose a 15-day license suspension on the owner without further warning. If the plea is within the deadline and is either a “guilty” or “non vult” (no contest) the license suspension for a first offense of selling to a minor over 18 and under 21 is 15 days. For a second conviction it is 30 days, for a third it is 45 days, and for a fourth, the license can be revoked altogether. If, however, the person served was under 18, a “30-day, 60-day, 90-day, revocation” schedule for first through fourth violations will be imposed.
In some cases, the license suspension can be converted to a fine so that the doors of the bar or liquor store can stay open. This, however, is at the discretion of the ABC Director. Also at his discretion is the appropriate number of days to suspend the license or in the alternative, how much of a fine to impose. There are other creative ways in which the ABC Director can improve the establishment such as mandating the installation of an ID scanner, forcing all employees of the license holder to be trained by the State to identify Fake ID's, and forcing the owner of the license to have more of a presence at the establishment under scrutiny.
In addition to serving alcohol to minors, N.J.A.C. 13:2-23.1 also grants the NJ ABC power to impose the same license suspension periods or fines on bars that “over-serve”. This provision forces bartenders, managers, and license holders to identify patrons that have had too much to drink. According to the ABC, failure to cut off already intoxicated patrons could lead to more car accidents, crime, and even severe injury or death to the patron. Again, the ABC Director is given carte blanche as the best way to impose a penalty on the establishment.
If you are a New Jersey Liquor License holder and are being charged with a New Jersey Administrative Code violation, New Jersey Statute Title 33 offense, or any other NJ ABC provision, contact the experienced New Jersey ABC attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C., for a consultation. As a former staff attorney for the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Jeffrey A. Warsh, Esq., (of counsel) is well equipped to handle New Jersey ABC related charges and investigations. Call (732) 540-1233 today for a consultation.