‘Didn’t know’ is no excuse in selling booze to minor, court rules

Laws come and laws go but there’s one statute that’s stood the test of time in Minnesota: You can’t sell booze to a minor. Period.

Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reaffirmed the law that’s been around since the 1870s, ruling that a server can be prosecuted even if she didn’t know the person buying the alcohol was a minor.

Working at a Burnsville restaurant, Stacy Rohan was caught in a police sting in November 2011 when she allegedly delivered the alcohol to an underage woman in the company of two undercover police officers.

The court said Rohan checked the ID of the woman, but served the alcohol anyway. It noted that the date of birth on the ID was correct. Rohan claimed she didn’t know the person was underage.

The Court today overturned a district court ruling that a bartender would be deprived of due process under the Constitution if state prosecutors aren’t required to show that she meant to serve the underage patron.

The law has been on the books in Minnesota since 1872 and been reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court and Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Legislature has had plenty of time to change it if it wanted to require proof of intent to sell.  As a matter of historical record, the Appeals Court noted that before 1872, the parent of a minor could provide a tavern keeper with written notice that the minor was not to be served alcohol, and the service of alcohol to the minor after such notice was a crime.

In a dissent, however, Chief Judge Matthew Johnson said the state should be required to prove an intent to sell to a minor because the possible punishment in this case is a year in jail.

“These are not the ‘small penalties’ that historically have been associated with public-welfare offenses,” he wrote.