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What is an ABC Law Violation?

F. Michael Ayaz

According to common law, an individual who holds a license issued by the California Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board has the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect the safety of their patrons. The ABC Act outlines specific rights, responsibilities, and liabilities that licensees have in operating their business. Licensees are typically liable for any activities that occur at the licensed premises and for the actions of their employees or agents. This means they can be held legally responsible for any injury or damage that occurs to a patron or is caused by them, such as in a fight, fall, or drunk driving collision.

California’s alcohol laws can be difficult to understand, and even a seemingly minor violation can have devastating consequences on a business. If you own or operate an ABC licensed business, read on to learn about potential violations and minimize your risk of liability.

What Is an ABC Law Violation?

All licensees must follow the laws below, regardless of the type of license they hold. Failure to follow any of these laws is considered an ABC law violation:

  • After hours. Between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. on the same day, licensees may not sell, give, or deliver alcohol. Licensees also may not permit customers or employees to consume alcohol, and no person may purchase alcohol.
  • Authority of peace officers. In plainclothes or in uniform, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and ABC agents have the right to visit and inspect any area of the licensed premises during business hours without requiring a search warrant or probable cause. Licensees cannot deny entry, resist, delay, obstruct, or assault a peace officer.
  • Contaminated beverages. Licensees and their employees may not sell, give away, or provide alcoholic beverages with deleterious or poisonous substances. They may not allow open bottles of alcohol to become contaminated with foreign matter.
  • Discrimination. Licensees (except for certain club licensees) may not refuse to provide full and equal facilities, accommodations, privileges, or services on the premises due to a person’s sex, color, race, religion, or other factor. They may not discriminate via pricing drinks differently for people based on these factors, non-membership in an organization, or any other element that would be considered discrimination against the public.
  • Disorderly conduct. Licensees may not permit any of the following acts:
    • Lewd conduct in public
    • Prostitution
    • Accosting others to beg
    • Loitering in or about public toilets for a lewd purpose
    • Loitering without reason and refusing to identify oneself to a peace officer
    • Being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and unable to exercise reasonable care for their own safety or the safety of others
  • Disorderly house. Licensees may not permit the licensed premises (including the parking lot) to become a disorderly house. This means disturbing neighbors with loitering, loud music, vandalism, or littering. It could also mean having multiple ongoing crimes such as assaults, narcotics, or prostitution.
  • Drug paraphernalia. Licensees may not sell any product to a customer if they know or reasonably should know that the customer intends to use that product for illegal drug purposes. The law presumes that licensees know an item is drug paraphernalia if they have been notified in writing that the product is commonly marketed or sold as such.
  • Failure to correct objectionable conditions. If they receive notice for objectionable, nuisance conditions on the premises or any abutting public sidewalks within 20 feet of the premises, they must take reasonable steps to correct these conditions. This includes loitering, public drunkenness, disturbances of the peace, lewd conduct, excessive loud noise, harassment of passersby, and drug trafficking.
  • Harmful matter. Licensees may not sell, rent, give, or show harmful matter to persons under 18 years old. Harmful matter refers to books, magazines, tapes, or other media that depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way that lacks value for minors. If a licensee sells harmful matter, they must take reasonable care to determine the age of customers and follow additional regulations.
  • Law enforcement problem. Licensees may not permit their premises to become a problem for law enforcement by making an unreasonable number of calls for assistance.
  • Minors. No person may sell, give, or provide alcohol to an individual under 21 years of age or permit this to occur. Licensees may not give alcohol to minors unless they work for a licensee and are making a delivery for their licensed employer. Minors may not purchase or consume alcohol in a licensed business.
  • Narcotics and dangerous drugs. Licensees may not knowingly permit anyone to sell, negotiate for, or use narcotics or dangerous drugs on the premises.
  • Obviously intoxicated persons and habitual drunkards. No person may sell or give alcohol to an individual who is obviously intoxicated, nor may they cause or permit this to occur. No person may give or sell alcohol to anyone who is a habitual drunkard (meaning they have lost control of their drinking), nor may they cause or permit this to occur.
  • Ownership. The ABC license must accurately reflect the ownership of the licensed business. Hidden owners and silent partners are prohibited, and the licensee must report any ownership changes to the ABC.
  • Substitution of brands. No person may substitute a brand or type of alcohol without informing the purchaser beforehand.
  • Unlawful possession of alcohol. Licensees may not allow alcohol on the premises except the alcohol they are licensed to sell, excluding type 41 licensees that may possess rum, brandy, or liqueurs for cooking purposes.
  • Weapons. Licensees may not possess or sell certain firearms or weapons, including undetectable firearms, short-barreled shotguns or rifles, metal knuckles, billy clubs, nunchucks, and daggers.

Specific types of licenses may have additional regulations along with those listed above.

Protect the Future of Your Business

If you own a business with an ABC license, you likely already know how tedious it can be to keep track of the detailed, demanding, and constantly changing regulations you must follow to avoid a costly violation. At Blake & Ayaz, we provide comprehensive legal representation that can help relieve this burden and offer peace of mind that your business will remain compliant. We can assist you in obtaining any licenses you require, explain how the ABC Act applies to your business, and guide you through any challenges or disputes that may arise. Contact us today to learn more about how our alcoholic beverage law attorneys can help you.

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