Thursday, April 11, 2002
Purchasing Alcohol for Minor a Strict Liability Crime, Court Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Purchasing alcohol for an underage person is a crime of strict liability, the Sacramento Superior Court Appellate Division has ruled.
The court’s Jan. 23 ruling was certified to the Third District Court of Appeal as presenting an important question of law, but that court declined to hear the case. The appellate ruling was made public yesterday and certified for publication.
The panel upheld Michael Lee Jennings’ conviction of violating Business and Professions Code Sec. 25658(c). The statute, enacted in 1998, provides for a jail term of six months to one year, a fine of up to $1,000, or both for “purchasing an alcoholic beverage for a person under the age of 21 years” if the person consumes the beverage and causes great bodily injury or death to himself or herself or someone else
Otherwise, furnishing alcohol to a person under 21 years is punishable by a $250 fine or between 24 and 32 hours of community service.
Police charged Jennings after he was identified as the person who purchased alcohol for an underage drinker who injured himself and two other people while driving home from Jennings’ house.
Jennings attempted to offer evidence that he believed the driver to be of legal age, because he had heard him say to someone else that he was 22. The trial judge excluded the evidence, ruling that the statute does not require proof the defendant knew of the person’s age.
The appellate panel—Presiding Judge Janice Hayes and Judges Gerald Bakarich and Patricia C. Esgro—noted that the statute lacks a specific mens rea requirement. While an implied requirement of intent is sometimes read into such laws, the panel acknowledged, that is not the case with laws whose “primary purpose…is regulation rather than punishment or correction,” the judges said.
The court cited a California Supreme Court ruling that sale of alcohol to a minor is a strict liability crime, subject to a statutory exception where the seller relies on bona fide evidence of age and identity.
Such a defense might not be available to someone in Jennings’ position, the appellate panel said, since he is not a “seller.” But the question is hypothetical because Jennings didn’t claim to have asked for or received proof of his friend’s age, the judges said.
Legislative history, the panel went on to say, also suggests that the court intended to create a strict liability crime.
Lawmakers, the jurists noted, had considered a provision that would have made the offense a wobbler. That, in turn, led to a proposal to add a specific-intent provision, but the Legislature ultimately voted to make the offense a straight misdemeanor with no mention or any requirement that the defendant know the person for whom alcohol was purchased was underage, the court pointed out.
The case is People v. Jennings, 00M07614.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company