Alcohol: Legal consequences

Last modified: Wednesday, 24. December 2008 - 4:03 am

Legal consequences of Alcohol

In October 2000, the U.S. Congress passed a transportation spending bill that included the establishment of a national standard for drunk driving for adults at a 0.08% blood alcohol level (BAL). States are required to adopt this stricter standard by 2004 or face penalties. As of 2001, more than half the states had adopted this stricter standard, while most other states have a BAL limit of 0.1% in place. Penalties for DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) offenses vary from state to state and can include fines, jail sentences, driver license supension or revokation, driving record points, community service, mandatory participation in a drug/alcohol program, and/or probation.

In 1999, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, the number of people arrested for DUI was 1,511,300. Alcohol is a factor in close to two-thirds of the homicides and assaults committed in this country. It is known to be connected to rape in both the offender and the victim. Sixty percent of sexual offenders have committed the offense under the influence of alcohol. Studies of prison inmates show that men are more likely to be drinking at the time of the offense than female offenders.

Dram Shop laws hold bar and restaurant owners responsible for the harm that intoxicated customers cause to other people or, in some cases, to themselves. As a result, college campuses and business organizations are placing greater emphasis on providing alcohol-free organizations and activities. Some colleges have established alcohol-free fraternities, sports events have instituted seating sections where no alcohol is allowed, and many bar owners provide taxi service for patrons who are too intoxicated to drive safely.

Legal history

Laws banning the sale of alcoholic beverages date back to the fourteenth century, when Germany banned the sale of alcohol on Sundays and other religious holidays. Even earlier Switzerland instituted laws requiring drinking establishments to close at certain times to combat public drunkenness. The first formal temperance movement began in Germany but movements promoting drinking in moderation became popular in other countries. In the middle of the seventeenth century, England imposed high taxes on alcoholic beverages. In America, taxes on whiskey brought about resistance by the distillers resulting in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

Temperance movements began to spring up in America largely supported by religious groups. By the eighteenth century the American Temperance Society promoted the concept of total abstinence from alcohol. In 1919 laws prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol nationwide were enacted, but these laws were repealed in 1933 by the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution.

Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties

Alcoholic beverage control laws (ABC laws) were developed to prevent the illegal sale of alcohol, to control the sale of alcohol, and to collect revenue for each state selling alcoholic beverages. The laws vary from state to state and are enforced by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores, and bars selling alcohol must have special licensing. The licensing differs for the type of establishment selling alcohol or alcoholic beverages. Each state regulates where alcohol can be sold and where it can be consumed. A person must be 21 years old to purchase alcohol. Warning labels are required on all alcoholic beverages sold in the United States. These labels alert consumers to the possible dangers of alcohol use when pregnant, driving an automobile, or operating machinery.

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