Depending on where you live, you may or may not realize that there are still states and localities in the United States where prohibition effectively still exists—that is, where alcohol sales are prohibited by law.
You may still hear the term "dry county" or "dry town" in some of these places. The federal laws that make liquor trafficking illegal are listed in 18 U.S. Code Chapter 59.
Suppose you carry liquor across state lines into one of these zones without being specifically licensed. In that case, you could be charged with the federal crime of transportation into a state prohibiting sale as defined under Title 18 U.S.C. §1262.
There are still numerous restrictions on the sale, transport, or use of liquor in the United States. Sometimes, violating these rules could result in federal criminal charges. If you face a federal crime, you know that the penalties are typically more severe than facing criminal charges at the state level.
This means you will need experienced federal legal representation to represent you in the federal court to have the best chance at a favorable outcome.
Perhaps the best option is to negotiate a plea agreement or make an attempt to get evidence suppressed to force the prosecutor to drop the case.
Perhaps we can present evidence to create reasonable doubt in court or present effective defenses. If you're convicted of this crime, you could face up to a year in prison. Our federal criminal defense lawyers will review this law in more detail below.
Title 18 U.S.C. 1262 Explained
The term "intoxicating liquor," as used in this statute, covers any alcoholic beverage containing more than 4 percent alcohol by volume or 3.2 percent alcohol by weight.
That definition encompasses almost any type of alcoholic beverage on the market, including beer, wine, and distilled spirits. The average beer is 5 percent alcohol.
Under this law, it is a federal offense to knowingly transport any intoxicating liquor into a state, territory, district, or possession of the United States where the sale of that particular type of alcohol has been prohibited.
The law targets alcohol transport by carriers, such as truck drivers, but it may also apply to individuals transporting alcohol.
What Are the Exceptions to the Law?
There are effectively two exceptions to U.S.C. § 1262 in which it is permissible to transport liquor into a state where it's prohibited. The two exceptions are:
- If you have a specific permit or license to do so. Some states may issue permits or licenses allowing specific individuals (e.g., truck drivers) to bring alcohol into the state. If you acquire a state-approved permit, you won't be charged with a crime.
- If you're passing through the state. U.S.C. 1262 applies only to people who bring prohibited alcohol into the state, not through the state. If, for example, you're a truck driver transporting a shipment of alcohol through the state as part of interstate commerce, you're not committing a federal offense.
Why Is This a Violation of Federal Law?
If you transport alcohol into a state/location where it's prohibited for sale, why would you be charged under federal law rather than by state or local laws? The answer has to do with interstate commerce.
If you violate a law within a state, you're generally charged within that state, but once the violation involves crossing state lines, it becomes a federal matter. No matter how simple the offense may seem, transporting liquor across state lines into a prohibited area is considered a federal liquor trafficking offense, punishable by prison time if convicted.
The penalty for violating U.S.C. 1262 is pretty straightforward. You may be sentenced to up to one year in federal prison per offense if convicted. You may also be subject to any applicable fines.
What Are Some Examples?
Example 1: David is a truck driver carrying a small shipment of wine from out of state to a new restaurant. The restaurant is in a "dry town" where alcohol sales are illegal, and the restaurateur intends to provide the alcohol to a select number of guests.
While the restaurant may be subject to local or state penalties, David could be charged with a federal crime for transporting alcohol across state lines to a place where it is prohibited.
Example 2: Jenny lives in a "dry county" in Texas. She travels to a "wet county" to buy gin and transports it home in the trunk of her car. While she may or may not be charged with local offenses based on state or local laws, she is not guilty of a federal crime because no state lines were crossed.
Example 3: Bob is transporting a shipment of whisky from a Kentucky distillery to several stops in New York. Bob passes through a dry county in New Jersey and is pulled over on a routine traffic stop, where the whisky is discovered.
Bob doesn't have a permit, but he explains that he is passing through the state and has law enforcement call his employer to confirm. Bob is not guilty of a federal crime, even though he brought alcohol into a dry county, because he was passing through the state and did not intend to stop.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Enforcement, regulations, and scope (18 U.S.C. 1261: This statute lays out the laws on liquor trafficking that are found within 18 U.S. Code Chapter 59 and will be enforced by the Attorney General, who is given the legal authority along with issuing regulations to carry out the provisions within the relevant chapter.
Improper labeling and shipping of packages (18 U.S. Code 1263): Shipping alcoholic beverages while failing to properly label the shipment with a detailed bill of sale showing the consignee and content of shipments.
Delivery to a consignee (18 U.S.C. 1264): Knowingly delivering liquor shipments to someone other than the person the shipment is consigned to.
C.O.D. liquor shipments (U.S.C. 1265): It's a federal crime for common carriers to ship alcohol by cash on delivery (C.O.D.).
Through negotiations with the federal prosecutor, it may be possible to work out a favorable resolution. If guilt is not in question, then a plea agreement might be the best defense strategy, but we are prepared to take the case to trial if we can't settle the matter.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm providing legal representation for federal issues across the United States. You can contact us by phone or by filling out the contact form.