MINOR STING, MAJOR CONSEQUENCES: HOW THE TABC MITIGATES UNDERAGE DRINKING

Ashley Storm Ruleman
,

Minors. Who are they?

These days it’s hard not to know that the drinking age across our country is 21, especially with Spring Break just around the corner. Most people under the age of 21 are all too aware that if they get caught with an alcoholic beverage, they run the risk of establishing a criminal record at their young age.  

However, Minor in Possession (MIP) is not the only crime related to the possession of alcohol by a minor. In fact, there are various scenarios where the Texas liquor license or permit holder pays the penalty via the sale or service of alcoholic beverages to minors.

View the chart below for specific examples:

* A “minor” for the purposes of this blog refers to a person under 21 years of age.
** Any exceptions here include when the minor is in the presence of his or her parent or legal guardian, when the minor is working with a peace officer (e.g., doing a minor sting operation), or when the minor possesses the alcoholic beverages as part of his or her employment (e.g., as a server).

What Is a Minor Sting Operation? 

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) conducts minor sting operations as part of its enforcement of these laws, and the TABC is very transparent about the manner in which they conduct these operations.  

Inherently, minor sting operations involve the TABC going undercover to identify establishments that sell alcoholic beverages to minors for off- or on-premises consumption. These establishments include (but are not limited to) liquor stores, grocery or convenience stores, bars, clubs, and restaurants.

The TABC will select volunteer minors, who are typically recruits from local schools or the agency employees’ children, to help conduct the minor sting. The volunteers are usually between 16 and 18 years old, are instructed to dress appropriately for their age, and may be asked to wear wires to record the transaction. Minors are also instructed not to coerce the sales clerk or lie about their age. (For more minor sting guidelines from the TABC, click here.)

If the clerk refuses to sell alcohol to a minor, the TABC notifies the owner/operator and congratulates the clerk. In some cases, owner/operators might even reward such employees in the form of a bonus.

How Are Establishments Selected for a Minor Sting?

Retail establishments are selected at random. The TABC may choose a general area of a town and assign each location in that area as part of the minor sting operation. If the same general area is chosen for a second sting, agents may only target businesses with complaints filed against them for selling to minors. 

Increasing Safety Through Stings

Minor sting operations in Texas have proved to be a valuable tool in mitigating underage drinking and enhancing the safety of the community. The TABC, together with other law enforcement, is making a concerted effort to curb the sale of alcohol to minors, but it’s up to the Texas liquor license holder to ensure their staff is seller/server trained. It’s up to the license holder to make every effort to ensure their staff complies with the law and follows good practices in serving alcohol, which all starts with seller/server training.

In the past, the TABC found that 35% of establishments sold alcohol to minors through minor stings. However, that rate — thankfully — dropped to about 20% in more recent years. 

As a Texas liquor license or permit holder concerned not only about running your business but also about the safety of our communities and road, remind your servers about these laws. Discuss them in your pre-shift meetings. Equip your servers with knowledge so that you, your servers, and the public can avoid the severe consequences associated with violating laws relating to minors and alcohol.

Photo credit: @moniquewray via Twenty20

About the Author. Ashley Storm Ruleman is an experienced legal counselor serving two diverse but often overlapping industries: the real estate development/construction industry and the alcoholic beverage industry. Before entering private practice, Ashley served as in-house counsel to a family of companies involved in real estate development, construction and management and was Assistant General Counsel to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). She now advises bars, restaurants, golf courses, and other clients regarding appropriate business structures, contracts, and real estate transactions that comply with the rules and policies created by the TABC and other applicable Texas laws. For more information, contact her at Ashley@MartinPowers.com.

About Martin Powers & Counsel, PLLC. Dallas-based Martin Powers & Counsel, PLLC is a boutique business law firm dedicated to providing personalized and strategic legal services for businesses of every size. The firm is home to experienced attorneys with expertise in business disputes, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) compliance, labor and employment law, real estate transactions, landlord/tenant disputes, contract negotiations, general counsel services, and other areas at the intersection of business and law.