Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently asked questions about how to submit a complaint or accusation to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
What is the goal of ABC's disciplinary procedures?
The goal of ABC's disciplinary procedures is to secure voluntary compliance among licensees.
What consequences does a licensee face for violating the Act or Rules?
Administrative penalties. Any person licensed by ABC, and his employees, must abide by all the laws of the State. If ABC has evidence of a violation involving a licensee or a licensed premises, it will file an administrative complaint, called an accusation. An accusation, if proven, will lead to the suspension or revocation of the license. An accusation is in addition to, and not a substitute for, possible criminal and civil penalties that local city and district attorneys may bring against the licensee or employee who committed the violation.
Criminal penalties can result from violations that are criminal offenses. For example, the sale or service of alcoholic beverages to a minor or an obviously intoxicated person is not only grounds for an accusation, but constitutes a criminal offense. Thus, the seller/server could be arrested, charged with a crime, and face a fine, community service work or imprisonment in county jail.
Civil penalties are money judgments and penalties resulting from a lawsuit or a permanent injunction. A local district or city attorney may bring an injunction against a licensee in cases such as a public nuisance. Also, ABC may seek an injunction against a licensee for ongoing violations by sending its request to the Attorney General, who files in the local Superior Court. ABC will seek injunctive relief in aggravated cases when there have been prior, recent, similar violations and/or there is a pending accusation involving similar violations. (Sections 24201, 24023, 23053.1, 25602.2 and Government Code Section 11503)
How does the disciplinary process begin?
The disciplinary process begins when ABC is informed of an alleged violation involving a licensee or a licensed premises. The information can come from a citizen complaint, police report, local legislative body, or ABC's own investigators who are sworn peace officers. A police report is usually sufficient in itself to warrant an accusation. With citizen complaints, an independent investigation by ABC is usually required. Citizens can assist the law enforcement effort by documenting violations. Neighbors are encouraged to keep logs of disruptive or illegal activities they see or hear at or around the premises. This can include incidents that disrupt the neighborhood, including noise, intoxicated patrons, fights, and the like.
How are investigations conducted, and by whom?
Investigations to detect violations may be conducted by ABC investigators and/or other law enforcement agencies. Investigations may include any of the following strategies: (a) undercover operations to target specific incidents of unlawful activity (e.g., drunks, narcotics, drink solicitation activity, condition violations, minors, etc.); (b) surveillances to check for loitering, drinking in public, graffiti, litter, excessive signage, excessive noise, etc.; (c) premises inspections (the law authorizes peace officers to inspect licensed premises for violations of the ABC Act during the times when the license privileges are being exercised); and/or (d) contacting nearby residents and business owners (an accusation to revoke a license of a disorderly premises may be based solely on the testimony and/or other evidence from citizens who live or work near the licensed premises). After completing the investigation, the investigator submits a completed assignment sheet and/or case report.
What happens after the investigation?
After the investigation, the District Office evaluates the case and takes one of six different actions, depending on the evidence and facts of the case.
- No Further Action. This means there was insufficient evidence of a violation and ABC is dropping the case with no further action.
- Warning Letter or Admonishment. A warning letter may be sent to a licensee or a licensee may be called into the District Office for an interview when the circumstances surrounding a violation show that a warning letter or interview will achieve the desired effect of compliance and the filing of an accusation is not in the best interests of justice. With warnings, there must be sufficient evidence to indicate that a violation did occur. Anything less is an admonishment.
- Notice of Public Nuisance. This notice describes nuisance conditions observed at the premises and reminds the licensee of his duty to control his premises. ABC then monitors the licensed premises. If, after being notified by ABC, the licensee fails to correct public nuisance conditions at the licensed premises within a reasonable period of time, ABC may file an accusation.
- Incident File. A police report, including any call for service to the premises by law enforcement, which does not by itself warrant an accusation, is placed in the licensee's file and accumulated. If a sufficient number of these reports or calls for service accumulate, ABC may file an accusation alleging "permitting a disorderly house" and/or "creating a law enforcement problem" at a future date.
- Accusation. If sufficient evidence exists that a violation occurred, the District Office prepares an accusation. The accusation alleges specific violations of law, rule or regulation.
Who may make an accusation against a licensee?
Any person. Accusations must be verified unless filed by a public officer acting within official capacity. An accusation must state facts constituting legal grounds to suspend or revoke a license. (Sections 24201-24207)
What is meant by a "verified" accusation?
The accusation must contain a written certification or declaration by the party making the accusation attesting the accusation to be true "under penalty of perjury," or it must be sworn to before a notary public with a statement that either by the party's own knowledge, or information and belief, the alleged facts are true. (Government Code Section 11503, Code of Civil Procedure Section 2015.5)
What are the legal grounds for an accusation?
Facts stated in an accusation must have at least one of the following grounds:
- The violation, or the causing or the permitting of a violation, of (a) the Act, (b) the Rules, or (c) any other penal provisions of the law of this State prohibiting or regulating the sale, use, possession, giving away, adulteration, dilution, misbranding, or mislabeling of alcoholic beverages or intoxicating liquors
- The misrepresentation of a material fact in an application
- The plea of nolo contendere, the plea, verdict or judgment of guilty to any public offense involving moral turpitude or to any federal law prohibiting or regulating the sale, use, possession, etc., of alcoholic beverages or prohibiting the refilling or reuse of distilled spirits containers
- Failure to correct objectionable conditions within a reasonable time after notice by a district attorney, city attorney, county counsel or the Department
Any other facts which would make the continuation of the license contrary to public welfare and morals (Section 24200)
If an accusation is filed against a licensee, what rights does the licensee have?
The licensee is entitled to have a public hearing on the accusation to present a defense against the charges made. The hearing will be presided over by an Administrative Law Judge of the Administrative Hearing Office. At the hearing the licensee is entitled to the issuance of subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses and materials and may be represented by counsel (but not at public expense), may present relevant evidence and may cross-examine all witnesses. The Administrative Law Judge makes a proposed decision which is filed with the ABC Director. (Government Code Sections 11500-11528)
May a licensee pay a fine in lieu of serving a license suspension?
Yes. If the ordered period of the suspension does not exceed 15 days and ABC finds that public welfare and morals would not be impaired by the substitution of a fine for the actual suspension of the licensed business, the retail licensee may pay a sum of money equal to 50% of the estimated gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages during the period of suspension. Such offer in compromise shall not be less than $1,500 nor more than $6,000 except that the limits are $75 - $3,000 when no accusation filed against a retail licensee has resulted in a final decision within the prior 3 years. For non-retailers the formula is more complex-refer to Section 23095. (Section 23095)
No Petition for an Offer in Compromise shall be granted for a second or subsequent violation of Section 25602 (sales of alcoholic beverages to obviously intoxicated persons) which occurs within 36 months of the initial violation. (Section 25602.3)
All monies collected as a result of penalties imposed under this subdivision shall be paid to the General Fund by the Alcohol Beverage Control Fund.
What is the ABC penalty for selling an alcoholic beverage to a minor or permitting a minor to consume an alcoholic beverage in an on-sale premises?
The law requires the suspension of a license for a second or subsequent violation within a 36-month period. The section also authorizes the revocation of a license for a third violation within a 36-month period. ABC may revoke a license prior to a third violation when the circumstances warrant it. (Section 25658.1 )