Furnishing Alcohol to Anyone Under 21 – Unlawful Sale or Distribution in Minnesota

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In cities around Minnesota, including St. Cloud, Roseville, Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, Sartell, and Mankato, law enforcement routinely conduct alcohol compliance checks, or “sting” operations, to catch establishments serving alcohol to patrons under 21 years of age, or other unlawful manufacturing, transporting, or selling of alcohol.

Generally, when law enforcement in Stearns county, Hennepin county or elsewhere conduct alcohol compliance checks at restaurants, bars or off-sale liquor stores, a government agent – someone under the age of 21 – attempts to purchase alcohol under law enforcement surveillance. If the bartender/server sells alcohol to the underage (and undercover) agent, police may swoop in and charges may result. 

With limited exceptions, Minnesota law prohibits anyone to sell, barter, furnish, or give alcoholic beverages to a person under 21 years of age. Minnesota law also criminalizes other forms of unlawful distribution or resale of alcohol.  Penalties can range from a felony to a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of each case.

Felony Penalties

Under Minnesota law it is a felony to transport or import alcoholic beverages into the state or to sell.

It is also a felony for a person (other than licensed retailer of alcoholic beverages, a bottle club permit holder, a municipal liquor store, or an employee or agent of any of these who is acting within the scope of employment) selling, bartering, furnishing, or giving alcoholic beverages to a person under 21 years of age if that person becomes intoxicated and causes or suffers death or great bodily harm as a result of the intoxication. For this felony conviction, Minnesota law requires a minimum 90 days of incarceration.

Gross Misdemeanor Penalties

Minnesota law punishes certain alcohol compliance violations as gross misdemeanors, including:

— selling an alcoholic beverage without a license

— neglecting to obey a lawful order of the commissioner (alcohol license authority), withholding information the commissioner calls for examination, or obstructing/misleading the commissioner in the execution of duties

— selling or otherwise disposing of intoxicating liquor within 1,000 feet of a state hospital, training school, reformatory, prison, or other institution under the supervision of the commissioner of human services or the commissioner of corrections.

If a liquor store or bar is the subject of a compliance check, any sellers or servers will be charged with a gross misdemeanor, which is punishable by imprisonment up to one year and/or a $3000 fine.

Misdemeanor Penalties

Under Minnesota law it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years to possess any alcoholic beverage with the intent to consume it at a place other than the household of the person’s parent or guardian, under the supervision of the parent or guardian.  A misdemeanor is punishable up to 90 days in jail.

Defenses in Minnesota

In certain cases involving a compliance check, or “sting,” law enforcement may commit entrapment, which is unlawfully inducing someone to commit a crime.  For example, it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years to claim to be 21 years old or older for the purpose of purchasing alcoholic beverages, and a government agent doing so may constitute entrapment.

In terms of furnishing alcohol to minors, Minnesota law also allows an affirmative defense when a defendant is the parent or guardian of the person under 21 years of age and that the defendant gave or furnished the alcoholic beverage to that person solely for consumption in the defendant’s household.

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