21 means 21 + 1 day?
January 5, 2011 12:54 AM   Subscribe

I was refused alcohol on my 21st birthday at my local liquor store. How is this legal?

I went to buy some beer at my local corner store and the clerk told he I could not buy any alcohol until a day after my birthday. I went back shortly after midnight the next day (technically January 5th; my birthday's the 4th), and he said he could not sell me any until 6am. He cited being busted for selling to someone on their 21st in violation of some ABC law. This yelp review shows that I am not the only person in California that this has ever happened to. What's going on here?

For reference, the store was the Kwik & Convenient on the corner of Monterey and Foerster in San Francisco, California.
posted by MattMangels to Law & Government (33 answers total)
How is this legal?

Ever see those stores in a sign or restaurant - "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" or something like that? If a store has a legitimate business reason not to serve you, and they're not discriminating against you based on your membership in a federally protected class (like being disabled for example) it's completely reasonable, even if the law the clerk was talking about doesn't really exist.

Here, I think their legitimate business reason is many people binge drink and wind up in the hospital on their 21st birthday ... and some people or their parents turn around and sue the alcohol vendor after that happens. They could just be protecting themselves by denying service until the next day.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:00 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ok, but even if he is just trying to protect me (I was buying 1 tall can), why not just say that? Why invent a phony law and a phony story about being busted? I mean, I've been going to this store for years; they guy knows me. The whole thing just strikes me as bizarre.
posted by MattMangels at 1:13 AM on January 5, 2011

They're not really obliged to sell anyone anything. I was once refused the opportunity to pay for a used motor vehicle with a gigantic sack full of coins. No-one is legally obliged to exchange any good or service for cash, even if it seems counter to their stated business interests, provided they have any credible reason for doing so that doesn't involve direct discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sexuality etc.

Some businesses won't serve alcohol to people under the age of 25, even if the law allows them to - it's all about erring on the side of caution, because the consequences of breaking the licensing laws can be severe.
posted by The Discredited Ape at 1:15 AM on January 5, 2011

Why invent a phony law and a phony story about being busted?

If the law doesn't exist - haven't tried looking it up, so I don't know - probably the manager makes them say that so fewer people being denied service will argue with them.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:20 AM on January 5, 2011

How is it legal? See above.

Why does it happen? Because losing the right to sell liquor, even temporarily, dwards the cost of inconveniencing a few customers; from the business's point of view, it's not worth it to explore edge cases or even step near the edge.

Let's say that the business refuses 10 legit sales per day out of 500. That's 10 sales lost, 490 made.

Now, what happens if the business accidentally makes an illegal sale and gets busted? That's 500 sales lost per day, for every day that their license is suspended, plus whatever time and money is costs to get the suspension lifted.
posted by zippy at 1:23 AM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think the much simpler answer is that the guy was simply wrong and/or innumerate and somehow actually thought you weren't 21 until the day after.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:23 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wow, same thing happened to me when I turned 18 (in California) and tried to buy lotto tickets. I called up the lotto people, they told me to go somewhere else.

I think the people at the store near my house thought it was a fake. Why on earth I would make a fake with the same date as today I have never understood. But I also do not make fake ID's

That is my advice to you, go somewhere else.
posted by Felex at 1:30 AM on January 5, 2011

As someone who lives in a state that changes its liquor laws constantly I can pretty safely say that everyone is super paranoid about getting busted but very few people know the actual details of the law. Probably someone told something to the owner who told his employees who played telephone with the law itself until it got to the version the employee told you existed.
posted by NoraReed at 1:50 AM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Data point: law enforcement agencies in California have employed persons to go undercover to bust alcohol sellers for violation of minimum-age laws. In fact, there are even cases where they have employed persons to go undercover to bust private citizens (of legal age) who are asked to buy alcohol on behalf of said undercover agent.

Your issue here is mainly falling under the time-tested legal precedent otherwise known as "better safe than sorry."

hint: bartenders are usually a more laid-back lot than corner-shop clerks. you might have been better off hitting up a bar with a valid ID showing your 21st birthday - you might even have gotten the first one free. I did on my 21st in Cali.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:59 AM on January 5, 2011

That "birthday + 1 day" shit was probably invented by some store owner who figured he was covering his ass and staying safely within the law, and the authorities will always side with someone like that over some guy in off the street who wants to buy his first bottle of Jack.

Just don't give them any more business, not unless your local corner store is the only rational shopping option for you. In a world run by money, choosing to shop elsewhere would be your vote against that sort of crap.
posted by pracowity at 2:06 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing that he was probably just playing it safe. Penalties for selling to underage customers are often severe, and the store's profit margins are probably rather thin. It's not worth it for them to take chances.
posted by jon1270 at 2:24 AM on January 5, 2011

Fencepost avoidance. What if you were born at 23:59 on the 24th and you show up at 00:00 on the 24th? Theoretically you are 23 hours and 59 minutes under age. Making it one day later gets around this case. The little warning sign on the counter may say "You must have been born *before* this date in year XXXX to purchase alcohol". I'm not sure what the legal hours of sale are for carry-out vs drink-in, vs beer/wine/liquor. The early bird is probably 6am. (CVS won't sell until 8 or 9 am. :) )
posted by zengargoyle at 3:18 AM on January 5, 2011

Ok, but even if he is just trying to protect me (I was buying 1 tall can), why not just say that?

No retailer is trying to protect you. If they're protecting something, it's themselves or their business.

Why invent a phony law and a phony story about being busted? I mean, I've been going to this store for years; they guy knows me. The whole thing just strikes me as bizarre.

To make you go away.
posted by pompomtom at 3:36 AM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

On the positive side, you now have an opportunity for a Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman moment on your return trip from a competing liquor store after you've stocked up for your 21st birthday bash. Bring in your receipt, show it to the manager, and tell them that their policy/clerk cost them this sale.

Of course, that sort of burns that bridge when it comes to shopping there in the future (unless the manager is cool about it - "Sorry, man, but if we get stung one more time selling to underage, we're toast."), but why would you want to keep shopping at a jerk store?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:46 AM on January 5, 2011

I'm going with "better safe than sorry." Alcohol laws are frequently insane and I can't blame the guy for being paranoid.
posted by rhizome at 3:51 AM on January 5, 2011

>Why invent a phony law?

It's done all the time. Businesses are notorious for citing non-existent laws to justify doing things the way they want to do it. It's a deflection strategy.

Although every state is different, in many states there is no state law behind the "State law: no shoes, no shirt, no service."
posted by yclipse at 4:35 AM on January 5, 2011

It might be interesting to see how the actual law is worded. When counting time, it gets very tricky. Remember the whole debate around the Year 2000 parties, when a whole segment of the population insisted that the millennium didn't technically start until 2001 and refused to celebrate the turning of the digits? (technically right, but who cares, it's a party!)

Maybe it's like that. Maybe on your 21st birthday, that is technically the last day of your 20th year so you are not legally 21 until the next day.
posted by CathyG at 5:30 AM on January 5, 2011

Did you have a sketchy looking license? I know a friend of mine from New York has trouble buying alcohol even though she is of age because her license is so beat up. (Why they don't have them laminated like other states, I don't even know.)
posted by sperose at 6:40 AM on January 5, 2011

Just a reference point, but when I was a bartender sometimes I and others I know would say something to that effect if we were unsure if the ID was legit (but not unsure enough to keep or report it). Or if I thought they'd be an annoying drunk little shit puking all over my bar in celebration of their birth. Mostly it was just a convenient way to refuse service. (This is in VA)

The paranoia grows when you learn that officers can enlist underage kids to try to buy from you so that they can bust you for selling to a minor, and I wouldn't doubt someone would try to use this "birthday gray area" as a way. As far as he's concerned, it's better safe than sorry. His not getting a misdemeanor charge and a huge fine is more important than selling you a beer on your birthday, sorry.
posted by sephira at 6:49 AM on January 5, 2011

Additionally, if liquor stores have reason to suspect that a person might be purchasing alcohol for minors, they are not to complete the sale.

So. You just turned 21 today. Sure, you were only buying one tall can, which is probably not enough to split with your just-turned-20 best friend, but the clerk doesn't know that and isn't likely to care, it's looks too much like the guy who just turned 21 buying a handle of Malibu. Because if you go around the corner, share that beer with a buddy and get caught, your receipt is going to take the cops back to the liquor store.

And they don't want that. Trust me, the cops do, but the liquor stores don't.

(Also, I know a lot of bars won't entertain even the thought of 21st birthday parties. The liability is just too great, as is the likelihood of hijinks and barfights.)
posted by bilabial at 7:03 AM on January 5, 2011

In the UK shops have become much stricter about selling restricted products since I was able to purchase Frosty Jacks from Morrisons when I was nearly 16. (We turn legal for drinking at 18, and I believe cigarette buyers need to be the same age now too.) I'm 28 now and I still get IDed for buying alcohol - the last time it happened was when buying sewing scissors. I was once refused a newspaper that came with an 18cert DVD when I was 23 or so, and was told that they have to get proof of age or can be fined heavily. I don't routinely carry photo ID (I don't drive) so I didn't get my paper from that store.

Sounds like your liquor store guy wanted to err on the side of caution.
posted by mippy at 7:30 AM on January 5, 2011

The ABC Act just says "ยง25658. (a) Unlawful to sell, furnish, give, or cause to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any person under the age of 21 years."
posted by smackfu at 8:36 AM on January 5, 2011

I don't know if someone said this already, but it might have something to do with the start-pf-business date for the retailer. For example, a bar is not supposed to sell someone alcohol on their 21st birthday at midnight, because the business date of the bar (even though they are open past midnight) is still technically the date before midnight hit.

This could also be true for what you describe. Sure, at the end of the day I don't know anyone would get in trouble, but this could be an explanation.
posted by irishcoffee at 8:40 AM on January 5, 2011

zengargoyle has it. The fact that your driver's license has the same date as today doesn't prove that you are 21 years old because it doesn't say what time of day you were born. You should have brought your birth certificate!
posted by nicwolff at 8:52 AM on January 5, 2011

A store that is overly conservative about alcohol sales is likely to win an award from any authorities. The Bday + 1 is because so many salesclerks have poor math skills.
posted by theora55 at 9:35 AM on January 5, 2011

nicwolff zengargoyle has it. The fact that your driver's license has the same date as today doesn't prove that you are 21 years old because it doesn't say what time of day you were born. You should have brought your birth certificate!

No; time of day is not a factor. The law only goes by the date. You are 21 at exactly midnight of your birthday, even if you were really born at 10pm.
posted by spaltavian at 9:51 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fencepost avoidance. What if you were born at 23:59 on the 24th and you show up at 00:00 on the 24th? Theoretically you are 23 hours and 59 minutes under age.

zengargoyle has it. The fact that your driver's license has the same date as today doesn't prove that you are 21 years old because it doesn't say what time of day you were born. You should have brought your birth certificate!

What? If it mattered what time you were born, it would say so on the license. Store owners are not supposed to have to theorize to uphold the law, that's why only your date of birth is important. The store clerk was misinformed and making sure he was not going to violate any liquor laws. It's silly, but their license is more important to them than selling a single extra beer.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2011

Do you look young? This sounds to me like a non-confrontational clerk who thought you had a fake ID.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:24 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not sure what the exact rules are, but the family owns a convenience store and they've always observed the "day after you turn 21" rule for alcohol sales (approximatelt 20 years in business). It has never had anything to do with getting rid of sketchy customers, because if you come in drunk, are being delightfully weird, are using a fake id or obviously are buying for a minor, we will tell you the real reason you are being denied a sale and let you go on your merry way.

Believe me, turning down a sale or having a weird powertrip is the last thing on their minds regarding the matter.
posted by french films about trains at 12:32 PM on January 5, 2011

Thanks for the input everyone. To clarify further, I used a passport as my ID since I don't drive and am afraid of going to the DMV to get a state ID, though I will eventually (*shudders*). This same store sold rolling papers to me on my 18th birthday (which I used the same passport for). I do look young, but I buy tobacco products from this store on a pretty regular basis and they always accept my passport, so it's not an issue of them thinking I have a fake ID. I could be wrong but a passport seems much harder to fake than a driver's license. I also sent a message to the guy who wrote the Yelp review I linked to. According to him "the state liquor board people were very adamant about being able to buy alcohol the instant the date becomes your birthday" (he actually called them). And I did go to a bar at precisely midnight on my birthday (the DNA Lounge) and was served alcohol (for free to boot). I'm really not mad about this; there are plenty of other places to buy from in my area, but only this one is 24 hours. I'm mostly just confused about all this. In any case, it's after 6am one day after my birthday so this issue shouldn't come up again, that is if I decide to ever buy alcohol from there (doubtful).
posted by MattMangels at 12:50 PM on January 5, 2011

Back when I waited tables, I had three young men sit at my table with shiny new IDs. I looked at all three, one at a time, and noticed that they were all dated 21 years ago on that exact date. I said, "Wow, what are the chances of that?" They looked at me blankly, and I showed them the door.

So, yeah, some dumbasses do use today's date on fake IDs.
posted by bink at 9:23 PM on January 5, 2011

I bought a bottle of whiskey at a Ralphs in LA within the first hour of the day I turned 21. I had a CA driver's license with the stamp stating I wouldn't be that age until that year. All that happened was that the cashier smiled and said "You're a new twentyoner, huh" as she accepted my money. The actual time of my birth wasn't for another 12-odd hours.

However, I HAVE had people give me a hard time when I produced my current passport when I was asked for ID: when I checked into a hotel and at the Lincoln home in Springfield, IL.
posted by brujita at 12:15 AM on January 6, 2011

It's more than the business getting penalized, the clerk usually doesn't want to risk their job either. Sometimes there can be a 'mystery shopper' whose purpose is to test the compliance with the rules. So, they err on the side of caution. It's the same with trying to purchase when drunk. If they serve you, they risk their jobs.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 11:04 AM on January 6, 2011

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