Last week we got a note at mauitime.com from a reader wondering about the legality of minor decoys. It’s an interesting question.
As a society we go to great pains to protect children from the alleged evils of drinking. We’ve set what some call a draconian minimum age of 21 (certainly our friends in Europe find that rather silly) and we crack down hard on establishments that break the rules.
And yet, ironically, one of the preferred methods of cracking down—a method regularly employed by the LC that’s outlined in section 08-101-102 of the department’s rules—is to send in an underage individual with the express purpose of purchasing alcohol. The person must be under 21, they can’t lie and they have to carry a valid ID (or no ID at all).
This year alone, well over a dozen businesses have been brought before the Adjudication Board on charges of selling to a minor decoy.
There is certainly an argument to be made that this is an effective way to make busts. But there’s a fine line between aggressive enforcement and entrapment.
My favorite part of the rule concerning minor decoys is this: “The decoy shall display the appearance which could generally be expected of a person under twenty-one years of age…” (Whatever that means.) I guess this is the LC’s attempt to avoid accusations that it’s sending in kids who look older than they are to trick proprietors into hefty fines.
Minor decoy laws have been tested before. In California in the early ’90s, an appellate court found a decoy program to be illegal, though the decision was later reversed by the state Supreme Court.
Here on the Valley Isle, no such challenges are pending. Kids will keep getting used as bait as long as liquor sellers keep biting.