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State v. Wohlsol

October 21, 2003

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
WOHLSOL, INC., APPELLANT.



Stevens County District Court File No. T202385

Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

A conviction under Minn. Stat. § 340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1) (1998), making it a misdemeanor crime for a retail liquor licensee to permit any person under the age of 21 years to drink alcoholic beverages on the licensed premises, requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the licensee had knowledge of, authorized, tolerated, or ratified the alleged violation.

Because the words "to permit" in Minn. Stat. § 340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1) require proof of knowledge, authorization, toleration, or ratification of an alleged violation, the statute is not unconstitutionally vague.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stoneburner, Judge

Affirmed; first certified question answered in the affirmative; second certified question answered in the negative

OPINION

Appellant Wohlsol, Inc., a Minnesota corporation, is charged with two misdemeanor counts of permitting underage persons to drink alcoholic beverages on its licensed premises in violation of Minn. Stat. § 340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1) (1998). Prior to trial, appellant moved to dismiss the charges, claiming that the statute is unconstitutionally vague. Appellant also renewed an objection to the district court's proposed jury instructions, which did not require the state to prove that appellant had knowledge of the violation or specific intent. The district court denied the motion to dismiss but granted appellant's request that the jury be instructed that the state is required to prove that appellant acted with knowledge of the alleged violation of Minn. Stat. §á340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1). The district court certified as important and doubtful the questions of (1) whether Minn. Stat. § 340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1), as it relates to whether the appellant "permitted" an underage person to drink alcohol on the licensed premises, requires proof by the state that appellant acted with knowledge of the alleged statutory violation and (2) whether Minn. Stat. § 340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1), is unconstitutionally vague with respect to the term "permit." We answer the first certified question in the affirmative and the second certified question in the negative.

FACTS

Appellant Wohlsol, Inc., a closely held Minnesota corporation, is an on-sale intoxicating-liquor licensee operating licensed premises known as Old No. 1 Bar & Grill in Morris. In January 2002, a waiter at the bar served alcoholic beverages to two 20-year-old patrons without asking either of them to produce identification. One of the patrons consumed about five beers on the premises and was later involved in a fatal car accident. The parties have stipulated that appellant asserts, and the State has no evidence to dispute, that it had not authorized or directed [the waiter] to sell, serve, or allow or permit consumption of alcoholic beverages by underage persons in the bar, and in fact, asserts that it had specifically trained and instructed its employees, including [the waiter], not to do so, on many occasions.

Appellant was charged with two misdemeanor counts of permitting an underage person to drink on licensed premises under Minn. Stat. § 340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1) (1998). Appellant moved to dismiss the charges, asserting that application of Minn. Stat. §á340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1), unconstitutionally violates due process by imposing vicarious criminal liability on appellant based solely on the actions of an employee. The district court denied the motion. The district court also denied appellant's request to instruct the jury that the corporation may only be guilty if the employee's actions were authorized, tolerated, or ratified by appellant's corporate management. Immediately prior to jury selection, appellant moved to dismiss the charges on the ground that Minn. Stat. §á340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1), is unconstitutionally vague. Appellant also renewed its objection to the district court's denial of its request that the jury be instructed that the state must prove appellant's knowledge or specific intent to violate the statute. The district court denied appellant's motion to dismiss but granted the requested instruction that the state is required to prove that appellant acted with knowledge of the alleged violation of the statute. The district court then certified the following questions to the court of appeals:

1. Does Minn. Stat. § 340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1), as it relates to whether the defendant "permitted" an underage person to drink alcohol upon the licensed premises, require proof by the Plaintiff that Defendant acted with knowledge of the alleged violation of the statute?

2. Is Minn. Stat. ยง 340A.503, subd. 1(a)(1) unconstitutionally vague with ...


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