Alcohol Law

What is Alcohol Law?

Alcohol law covers criminal, administrative, and personal injury cases involving alcoholic beverages. Each of these categories of cases is governed by a unique set of rules, and alcohol lawyers tend to limit their practices accordingly. Rules dealing with alcohol are generally a matter of state and local law. However, federal laws and regulations control issues such as the importation, taxation, labeling, and advertising of alcoholic beverages.

Federal lawmakers have also found creative ways to influence alcohol regulation issues that fall within the exclusive authority of the states. For example, in 1984 the U.S. Congress passed legislation that makes the full appropriation of highway funds to a state contingent upon that state outlawing the purchase or possession of alcohol by people under the age of 21. Initially criticized as congressional extortion, all states have now come into compliance with the federal act.

Criminal Offenses for Adults and Minors

People of all ages are subject to state laws prohibiting the operation of motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol. Referred to by various acronyms, including DUI, DWI, OUI, and others, these laws regulate drunk driving by specifying the maximum blood alcohol content (BAC) a driver may have while operating or having control over a vehicle. Thus, the law does not impose a complete ban on drinking and driving; rather, it establishes a legal limit. Currently, the BAC limit for adult, non-commercial drivers is .08%.

Minors under the age of 21 who drink alcohol face criminal prosecution for purchasing, possessing, or consuming even a single alcoholic beverage. Some jurisdictions have relaxed this zero tolerance policy when minors consume alcohol at home and in the presence of their parents. As with any sort of criminal charge, a defendant accused of underage drinking must carefully review the elements of the applicable statute or ordinance to determine whether it encompasses the defendant’s conduct, or better yet, hire an attorney to perform this task.

A number of other alcohol crime laws apply in most communities across the United States. The offense of public intoxication is a broad prohibition designed to curb the consumption of excess amounts of alcohol, and the disturbance to the public peace it can cause. Adults can also run afoul of the law by having an open container of alcohol where prohibited, or by furnishing beer, wine, or spirits to a minor.

Business Licensing Issues

States and counties require businesses to maintain liquor licenses in order to sell alcohol. For a tavern, restaurant, liquor store, or other such enterprise, this license can mean the difference between success and failure. When licensing issues arise, proprietors are advised to retain an attorney familiar with the administrative process the government must follow in order to deny a license application or to revoke an existing license for alcohol violations. Mistakes by licensing boards can be appealed, but short deadlines for doing so typically apply.

Tort Liability for Establishments that Serve Alcohol

The term “dram shop liability” refers to statutes or judge-made legal doctrines that hold establishments that serve alcohol strictly liable when they serve drinks to clearly intoxicated patrons who later cause harm to third parties. For example, if a bartender serves drinks to an obviously drunk customer, and that customer causes a car accident on the way home, the accident victim may be allowed to bring a tort claim against the bar. Establishments susceptible to dram shop liability usually maintain insurance policies covering such events, and the premiums are simply considered another cost of doing business.

Dram shop liability does not exist in all states. In fact, some jurisdictions have specifically barred personal injury plaintiffs from asserting this type of claim. Where it does exist, the victim of the drunk driver must prove that the establishment made an illegal sale, which includes sales to minors as well as sales to clearly intoxicated adults. Fault must also be established on the part of the intoxicated driver who caused the accident, just as it must be in ordinary car accident litigation.

Asserting dram shop liability means the victim must take on two defendants (the establishment owner and the drunk driver), their defense attorneys, insurance companies, claims adjusters, and a legal system full of pitfalls for those unfamiliar with the process of asserting a claim. A skilled plaintiff’s attorney can handle the situation with finesse, and ensure the victim is fully compensated. In cases of dram shop liability in particular, accident victims should seek out an attorney immediately after the accident, and avoid making statements or signing any documents in the meantime.

Legal Representation in Alcohol Cases

If you have been accused of committing an alcohol offense, or need help with any type of civil case related to the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages, attorneys are available right now to discuss your case. Remember, any delay in speaking with an attorney could put your legal rights in jeopardy.


Articles About Alcohol Law

  • What Types of Conditions of Probation May a Judge Impose in a Georgia Criminal Case?
    All too frequently, people ask us what types of conditions may be imposed by the Court as a condition of probation. Trial courts in Georgia criminal cases are vested with broad discretion to impose conditions of probation that it sees fit to address issues with a particular defendant.
  • DUIs and Deportation
    Many issues come up when someone is faced with a DUI but when you are not a permanent citizen, one of the biggest fears is deportation.
  • If It’s Legal Is It Still a Nuisance?
    As the landscape of marijuana legalization changes, the many related laws evolve accordingly. An Oregon court recently ruled that the smell of marijuana smoke cannot be considered inherently offensive.
  • Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
    While many people are familiar with the term DUI, meaning driving under the influence, this term is usually associated with alcohol. However, states also have additional laws or utilize the same laws as those pertaining to alcohol-related charges as those pertaining to driving under the influence of drugs. In states that have additional laws, these are sometimes abbreviated as DUID for “driving under the influence of drugs.”
  • Consequences for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
    Driving under the influence of drugs may be incorporated as an independent statute or may be treated the same as driving under the influence of alcohol, depending on state law. In either event, a conviction for driving under the influence can carry significant consequences.
  • Colorado Passes Felony DUI Bill
    The Colorado state legislature recently passed a bill that is sitting on the governor’s desk waiting his signature.
  • Why You Should Always Refuse Roadside Sobriety Tests
    Virtually any time you are stopped and investigated for suspicion of DUI, the officer is going to ask you if you would be willing to perform Standard Field Sobriety Tests, otherwise known as Roadside Maneuvers.
  • Medical Marijuana Allowed While on Probation
    On May 8th, Governor Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1267 into law, which concerns the use of medical marijuana while an individual is on probation.
  • Why Education is the Best Weapon Against Drunk Driving in Texas
    Texas has more fatal car accidents involving alcohol than any other state. An approach focused on punishment and not education has not been effective in reducing the statistics.
  • Inaccuracy in Georgia Breathalyzers
    What Can Interfere with Breath Testing?
  • All Business and Industry Law Articles

State Alcohol Laws

Alcohol Law - US

  • ABA - Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice - Beverage Alcohol Practice

    The Committee serves lawyers whose practice involves the law of alcohol beverages. This Committee welcomes as members in-house counsel, private practitioners, federal or state regulatory counsel or administrators, administrative law judges, and others.

  • Alcohol Policies in the United States

    Each year in the United States, hundreds of thousands of injuries, illnesses, and deaths and billions of dollars in social costs can be connected to alcohol use (NIAAA, 1997; 2000; Rice, 1999). It is essential to consider how policies that affect alcohol production, distribution, taxation and consumption can be effective tools for diminishing the negative impacts of alcohol use.

  • Alcohol Policy Information System

    The Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS) provides detailed information on a wide variety of alcohol-related policies in the United States at both State and Federal levels. Detailed, state-by-state, information is available for the 35 policies listed below. APIS also provides a variety of informational resources of interest to alcohol policy researchers and others involved with alcohol policy issues.

  • Blood Alcohol Content - Legal Limit

    The legal limit for driving is .08% in the United States. If someone has been pulled over for driving with a BAC this high, they may be arrested for a DUI. In some states, a person with blood alcohol content greater than .15% could be subject to even more penalties. This is because the person is even more impaired, and it is not safe for them or others to be on the road.

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF)

    A unique law enforcement agency in the United States Department of Justice that protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products. We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology.

  • DOT - Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance

    The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 requires drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive transportation employees in aviation, trucking, railroads, mass transit, pipelines, and other transportation industries. DOT publishes rules on who must conduct drug and alcohol tests, how to conduct those tests, and what procedures to use when testing.

  • Sale of Alcohol Licensing Law (ICAP)

    Licensing law is the set of legal rules governing the sale of alcohol in a given jurisdiction. It usually defines who can sell alcohol, when, where and to whom. Generally the underlying purpose of licensing law is to act as a protection against any potential harm to public order or to public health. This is sometimes stated in the law.

  • Zero Tolerance Law

    Zero Tolerance laws state that persons under the age of 21 must not drink alcohol and drive. Even after one drink, minors will be punished for violating this law regardless of whether they are physically impaired during driving or not.

Organizations Related to Alcohol Law

  • Alcohol and DUI Laws - Alcohol Laws Organization

    There are many rules and regulations that concern alcohol across the United States. Whether it involves when and where alcohol may be sold or who may consume it, it is vital to understand the law where you live. The consequences of violating these laws may range from paying a fine to spending mandatory time in jail.

  • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

    Our mission is to collect alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition excise taxes; to ensure that these products are labeled, advertised, and marketed in accordance with the law; and to administer the laws and regulations in a manner that protects the consumer and the revenue, and promotes voluntary compliance.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous®

    Alcoholics Anonymous® is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving

    MADD was incorporated on September 5, 1980, the mission or purposes of MADD as stated in its Articles of Incorporation were “To aid the victims of crimes performed by individuals driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to aid the families of such victims and to increase public awareness of the problem of drinking and drugged driving."

  • National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

    To support and promote the best science on alcohol and health for the benefit of all by: * Increasing the understanding of normal and abnormal biological functions and behavior relating to alcohol use * Improving the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol use disorders * Enhancing quality health care.

  • National Liquor Law Enforcement Association (NLLEA)

    The National Liquor Law Enforcement Association (NLLEA) is a non-profit association of law enforcement personnel dedicated to the enforcement of liquor laws and regulations. The NLLEA has a membership structure that is open to all levels of persons involved in enforcing liquor laws in the United States and Canada.

  • Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center

    The Vision of the Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center is to create healthier and safer environments in which States, local communities, and Federal entities engage in environmental prevention and enforcement practices that proactively and effectively limit youth access to alcohol and significantly reduce harmful consequences associated with alcohol use by underage youth.

Publications Related to Alcohol Law

  • About Alcohol

    Alcohol will publish original reports in English of new and systematic studies in the various fields of alcohol research. All aspects of alcohol's biological action will be covered, including anatomy, biochemistry, cell biology, physiology, pharmacology, toxicology, behavior, social anthropology, and clinical problems. Of immense value to both practitioners and basic scientists, Alcohol is the major international journal devoted solely to biomedical research on alcohol and alcoholism.

  • Alcohol Information

    Drinking alcohol is a part of life for many people.From happy hour with co-workers to tailgating with buddies, alcohol is around. Here are some basic facts about alcohol. Alcoholic beverages contain ethanol, which is one of many types of alcohol. Ethanol is known to have a depressant effect. Because of this, it is regulated and restricted across the United States.

  • Alcohol Law Review is an innovative discussion board which allows users to quickly and easily gather information about many of the most pertinent developments in alcohol regulation and litigation. This site is intended to facilitate dialogue about current alcohol law cases, legal challenges and issues around the country. It is moderated by NBWA Senior Vice President, Industry Affairs and General Counsel Paul Pisano and features occasional guest columns for experts in alcohol law.

  • Alcohol Related Topics (NIAAA)

    This section contains easy-to-read material for the public covering a wide range of alcohol-related topics. Publications listed below are online full text and free of charge unless otherwise noted.

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