Monday, February 27, 2017

County attorney points out "bone" dry law

Crittenden is a dry county and local leaders are making sure restaurants and other public establishments understand the letter of the law.

County Attorney Rebecca Johnson recently mailed about two dozen letters to local businesses and other public facility managers outlining details in the prohibition of alcohol in a dry option county such as this one.

The two-page correspondence begins, “Recently, local law enforcement agencies have fielded increased calls and have responded to area businesses regarding the sale, possession, distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages on business promises.”

No one has been cited for bootlegging recently, but City Police Chief Ray O’Neal said there have been a number of instances where he or other law enforcement officials have been made aware of potential infractions, often days after an alleged event that could have violated state law.

“Several have been bought to our attention and there just seems to have been more of it lately,” O’Neal said.

The chief pointed out that social media is often a platform for discovering such activity.

Local police collaborated with the county attorney on the recent letter. O’Neal and Johnson each characterized it as an educational opportunity.

“It was intended as more of an educational opportunity rather than a warning,” Johnson said. “It is a reminder that we are truly a dry territory.”

Johnson said many surrounding counties or communities have passed laws allowing alcohol to some degree, which can create some confusion even in dry counties.

“We want everyone to understand the potential seriousness of it,” the police chief added.

The letter, dated Feb. 10, was sent local all restaurants and some other organizations. Foes Hall Inc., and Marion Country Club also confirmed receiving letters. Both have auditoriums or dining rooms that are routinely rented for dinners, weddings, reunions and other group parties.

The letter cites a number of Kentucky statutes in explaining the prohibition of alcohol being sold, shared or consumed in a “public place.”

“A public place is defined as a place which is accessible to the public and to which the public is invited,” it reads. “Retail establishments, restaurants and generally any business open to the public clearly fall under this definition.”

So-called brown-bagging is not permitted in dry counties, Johnson said. Brown-bagging is the phrase used for places where patrons bring into a restaurant or other establishment a bottle of concealed liquor or other alcoholic beverage and discreetly pour from their bottle.

There is no distinction in the law for for-profit or not-for-profit events or venues, the letter states.
It explains that private family events such as weddings are not subject to violation of the alcohol beverage control laws unless alcohol is sold at a cash bar or by other means.

“However, an otherwise private event becomes a public event if tickets are sold to the public. Dinners, dances, banquets, concerts, special events, etc., where tickets are sold to the public and where alcohol is present on the premises would constitute violation of alcoholic beverage control laws,” says the county attorney’s letter.

Johnson noted that providing alcohol to minors or selling alcohol would be considered blatant violations of dry-option laws.

The owner of an establishment bears legal responsibility if he allows alcohol to be consumed on his premises even if he’s not involved, explains the correspondence.

Johnson said it would probably be beneficial for those who rent their facilities to be very clear in their rental agreements as to what cannot and can be done on premises, if it will be a public event. Adding that language to the rental contract could provide some level of protection to the property owner.
“Clearly, the conduct of others on the premises can subject the business owner, operator or others associated with the business to criminal liability,” the letter reads.

Fines, jail time and property forfeiture can be part of the penalties, according to information in the letter sent to area businesses.

Crittenden County has been a dry option territory since Prohibition. There have been two public referendums since the 1930s to make all or parts of Crittenden a wet or “moist” area, but both failed at the ballot box.