Alcohol Stings by Police: Rules?

I’ve tried to google this but no dice: What are the rules that pertain to police stings that try to catch clerks who sell to underage kids? I had read in a news article a while ago that the police lackey (for lack of a better term) is a teenager that walks into an establishment and attempts to buy some alcohol. According to the dim recesses of my memory, that article stated that the lackey presented his actual state-issued ID that clearly states that he is underage, and cannot lie about his being underage when questioned by the store clerk (otherwise this could be construed as entrapment). Is this true?

This question is brought on by my recent attempts to enter bars/pubs and the like. I’m young-looking, but legal, and I get a lot of shit from bouncers who seem like they’re on the edge of denying me entry. Doesn’t the fact that I emphatically state that I am not underage negate the possibility that I could be working as part of a police sting?

When it comes to clubs and strip joints and the like, they are merely protecting themselves. If the cops come in and find that you are there under a false I.D., they can still hold the establishment responsible if you look underage. So basically what it boils down to is whether or not the bouncer or door guy thinks you’re legit. If not and he denies entry, they haven’t lost much. If he lets you in and the cops bust you, it could conceivably be big and expensive trouble for them. (I know this from having had bouncer and club owner buddies in the past.)

As to what the procedure is in busting liquor and convenience stores I have no idea, but I would think the kid would have to have legit I.D. that the store clerk just didn’t look closely at, if at all.

I’m sure the rules vary dramatically by jurisdiction and are open to interpretation in the extreme. The cops get a shitload of latitude on this stuff and in many cases they might not be concerned if a sting gains a conviction in every case since most businesses would negotiate a settlement and pay a fine. Make no mistake, it’s all a revenue generating opportunity.

More to the point, because the rules are so vague and aren’t understood clearly by anyone in the industry or by the police who enforce it everyone tends to err on the side of caution. A bar can refuse entry to anyone they want for any reason they want. If they suspect you are underage they could bounce you regardless of what ID you have. Lots of people have legitimate fake IDs that were obtained at the DMV with false record (usually an older siblings papers) and if that person gets arrested, injured or otherwise into trouble as a result of (or in coincidence with) drinking in a bar it simply won’t matter. The bar might be able to fight any suits or civil claims and will probably be able to defend their licenses but that can be very expensive. Causing pain and expense is often enough of a penalty from law enforcements point of view, not to mention any civil issues.

There was recently a news item where TV report crew snuck underage teenagers (with consent of their parents!) into supermarkets to get them to buy alcohol (hard liquor you can’t buy below 18 years). They wanted to find out if the cashier asked them for their ID; several did not, even when the legal sticker was there (and even if the manager of the supermarket claimed that it was always done). When the TV crew revealed themselves and asked the cashiers, they evaded or said that the kids looked old enough.

Then the TV crew went to the police and asked them “why don’t you do some undercover stings like this more often and punish the stores who don’t ask severely?” and the police replied “well, if we use real minors, there would be a legal problem, and their parents might protest”, at which point I thought “are you guys stupid? There are enough 18 year olds around that look 16 years, send them in and if they aren’t asked, the store is fined, because they should ask everybody who looks that young, end of story”. Apparently, the police and lawmakers aren’t in a hurry to make sale of alcohol to teens difficult.

My Girlfriend was one of the decoys when she was a kid (they are just regular police dept. volunteers). She said there were reasonably strict rules, i.e. you had to look underage, you couldn’t wear make-up, etc.

Still seems a rather ridiculous thing to spend tax payers money on to me, but then the whole “drinking age is 21” thing is bonkers if you ask me.

I just got re-certified by the TABC and they are sure to emphasize this stuff, so I can answer the OP from the standpoint of Texas state laws.

Also, the liquor store where I work unfortunately got busted in a sting a few months ago and is under scrutiny, so the owner’s jumpy and making sure we all know exactly what’s what. (I wasn’t the clerk getting buster, tho.)

The underage kid - who is, yes, really underage and really using his/her own ID stating so - comes into a liquor store with an undercover cop. The cop is there as a witness to prevent he-said, she-said b.s. The undercover cop mills about as casually as possible, hovering near the register, while the underage kid tries to buy some booze.

If the clerk then:

  • sells the kid the booze w/out asking for ID, the clerk is busted. Fines for a class-A misdemeanor (I think) for the clerk, possible jail time for the clerk, and fines for the store ensue.

  • asks for ID, the kid must show his real ID. In Texas, the driver’s license for the under-21 set is oriented vertically instead of horizontally, not to mention the giant red “UNDER 21” emblazoned on the front.

The kid is not allowed to lie. If you ask, “Are you over 21?” they are not allowed to say “yes.”

There is a third option. It’s rarely comes up, for reasons that will soon be clear to you, dear reader.

What happened in our store - and this really belongs in the “What did you just do, you moron?!?” thread - is that the clerk at our store *did *ask for the girl’s ID.

He took her ID, looked at it … and then … oh, Og … he still sold her the beer. Apparently, she was real purty and blonde and cute.

:smack: all around!

They sting you for cigarettes here as well. In Ontario it is illegal to sell tobacco products to “minors” (they can still smoke 'em, of course, but that is a whole other rant.) I’ll admit I was getting lax about ID’ing and was caught in a sting once. Some guy bought a pack of smokes, I sold them to him, and next thing I know a woman from the Health Unit is treating me like I just sold crack to a toddler. Thank goodness she only gave a warning and my bosses understood that I’d made a mistake and felt terrible, otherwise I would have been SCREWED. They could have lost their tobacco-selling-license and therefore pretty much their whole business.

(You guys are the only people who know that story.)

I wish the laws would actually make it illegal for the minors themselves to purchase or possess the item - rather than put the onus on the shop clerk who is just making minimum wage - but that would mean making people responsible for their own actions, wouldn’t it? (/sarcasm.)

And young. And nubile. And … (smacks self)

Well, I think the whole point of these laws are that people this young aren’t able to be considered responsible for themselves, isn’t it? That’s why we ask adults to take responsibility for them.

Nice summary up there. Our county just passed alcohol sales at the last election, so we’re beginning to get “sale to a minor” cases in our office from TABC. One thing most, but unfortunately not all, of the case files include is a full-body photograph of the minor, taken by the agent just before the minor is sent in to attempt to buy alcohol. It’s mighty handy to have those pictures later, in case they claim, “But she looked old enough!” Sure, pal.

Well then, say I was an unscrupulous liquor store clerk who didn’t mind selling to underage purchasers. Couldn’t I just ask every underage kid who walks into my store and buys alcohol if he or she is over 21? The decoys are obligated to tell the truth; I don’t sell to them. The normal underage kids would merely respond that they are over age, and thus I could sell to them without worry of being arrested, no?

Or put a sign next to the beer cooler: “By selecting and/or attempting to purchase alcohol, I hereby certify and swear on my family members’ graves that I am not working for any law enforcement organization, and that I am over the age of 21 years old and hold the clerk blameless for anything and everything so help me God”.

The presence of a sign is not a contract or agreement in any form.

You are making two rather wild assumptions:

  1. The customer can read.
  2. The customer chooses to read.

And the graves of family are not a valid oath in any court in this country (United States)

And…for what it matters…whether the underage kid holds the clerk responsible or not, the law does.

Dram shop liability. The liquor store doesn’t just have to worry about sell alchohol to an underage person as part of a police sting. Say some underage person not working for the says “Sure, I’m over 21” and buys booze. He then get’s drunk, trys to drive, crashs his car, and dies. His parents can then sue the liquor store owner and the clerk. So can the anyone else he injures or the next-of-kin of anybody he kills. In some states the underage person himself is allowed to sue for injuries he sustained as a result of drinking that booze. Just taking someone’s word about their birthdate doesn’t count as due diligence.

I’m a bit surprised by that “they can’t lie” bit.

It reminds me of that urban legend where you can make sure it’s not a cop sting by asking them if they’re a cop, and they can’t lie.

My WAG is it’s because the kids aren’t cops, and the cops would be coercing civilians to lie in order to entrap others… something like that, I suspect.

I can vouch for the whole “sting kid can’t lie” in Texas. I used to work for a liquor store when I was in college and they would come in. The TABC officer would always be in there too, wearing green park ranger pants, and would park funny outside, almost sideways taking up three parking places.

They would send a girl in (almost always a cute little 17 year old) and stare at us when the kid was trying to make the sale. We would ask for the ID, get it sometimes. When we got it, we would call 911 and try to get the kid arrested, just to piss off the TABC officer because he was a real douche bag.

When they said they didn’t have it and they weren’t 21, we would start to holler and scream at them saying we were calling the cops and stuff like that, and tell the kid “get the hell out of our store, and take the TABC officer with you!”

They rarely tried to sting our store.

Quite, they aren’t cops, or even Criminal Informants. They are the regular “police explorer” kids they get to do volunteer work at PDs (ride-alongs, maning the PD booth at state fairs and such).

Yeah, but still, it’s not illegal to lie unless you’re under oath.

I dunno about other states, but in Texas, a sting kid is the only underage kid that is allowed to attempt to buy alcohol/tobacco, but only while participating during a TABC sting.

I will see if I can find the law and link it if anyone is really that interested.

No, it’s not entrapment. My supposition is that the TABC includes this rule in its guidelines for minor sting operations in order to ensure a nice, clean case, without even the possible cloud of entrapment defense. Not because that defense would work (entrapment entails the application of such coercion that it overwhelms the resistance of a person of ordinary fortitude not initially inclined to break the law; it takes a lot more than being casually lied to), but rather because the TABC thinks it can fulfill its mission more effectively by focusing on the slam dunk cases of merchants operating so far afield of the law that they don’t even inquire about ages, rather than going after these slightly stickier wickets.

I also imagine that the liquor retailers’ lobby also advocated for the rule, knowing that while they weren’t going to get minor stings phased out of existence, they could get a rule that makes their lives a lot easier.