Minor Decoy Program

    The Minor Decoy Program allows local law enforcement agencies to use persons under 20 years of age as decoys to purchase alcoholic beverages from licensed premises. As of October 1st, 2004, the Department of ABC uses decoys .

    The Decoy Program has been recognized as an excellent method to attack the problems associated with the unlawful purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages by young people.

    In 1994, the California Supreme Court ruled that the use of minor decoys was not entrapment and did not violate due process requirements. Since the Supreme Court ruling more than 100 law enforcement agencies have used the Decoy Program. When used on a regular basis, the percentage of licensees selling to minors drops dramatically.

    Immediately following the Supreme Court ruling licensees in some communities were selling alcohol to minor decoys at a 50% "hit" rate. After continuous use of the program over a period of time, the hit rate dropped to less than 20% in some cities. In one operation in Fresno, decoy teams visited over 40 outlets with no violations of sales to minors.

    During the 1998-99 fiscal year, a total of 641 Minor Decoy Operations were conducted by local law enforcement agencies around the state. Of the 6,822 visits made to ABC licensed businesses, 1,396 sold to the decoy. That is a 20.46 percent violation rate, which is down from 29.40 percent. in 1993-94.

    State regulations that took effect January 2, 1996, require that the decoy be less than 20 years of age; display the appearance which could generally be expected of a person under 21 years of age; shall either carry his or her own identification showing the decoy's correct date of birth, or shall carry no identification; a decoy who carries identification shall present it upon request to any seller of alcoholic beverages; and shall answer truthfully any questions about his or her age.

    In addition the Department strongly encourages law enforcement agencies to notify all licensees by letter of a pending Decoy Program. The objective of this notification is to minimize the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors.

    Local agencies are also urged to consider notifying the local media of the Decoy Program. This gives licensees a second notification and may elicit editorial and community support for the agency.

    Under a law passed by the state legislature in 1995, licensees face increased penalties for sales to minors. A first time sale may result in a fine or license suspension. A second sale to a minor within a three year period is an automatic license suspension. A third sale to a minor within a three year period may result in license revocation.

    In 1998, the California Highway Patrol reports there were 130 traffic fatalities involving drivers under the age of 21 who had been drinking. This is a 20% increase over 1997. Another 1,857 were injured, many seriously. This is also an increase over the previous year*.

    The California Highway Patrol reports that traffic collisions are a leading cause of death among young adults

    *1998 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, SWITRS, CHP.


    Current funding for the program is derived from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    Contact Information

    Additional information may be obtained by contacting:

    Alcoholic Beverage Control
    Grants Unit
    3927 Lennane Drive, Suite 100
    Sacramento, California 95834
    Phone (916) 928-9807
    Fax (916) 419-2599