The recent arrest of a Galveston bartender is a reminder that those who serve alcohol to drunk drivers can also face criminal penalties. According to reports, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission arrested 58-year-old Gil Garcia for serving alcohol to an intoxicated man. The patron ultimately left the bar and got into a wreck which left four people dead. This horrific accident is certainly not solely the fault of a bartender, no matter how negligent his behavior. Nonetheless, serving an intoxicated person can result in criminal penalties.
The drunk driver was Miguel Espinoza, aged 45. Espinoza left the bar intoxicated and drove his Hyundai SUV into a golf cart and a second vehicle at 33rd Street. The accident victims were visiting Galveston on vacation.
In total, 6 people were in the golf cart, including two children. Four people were killed, including the four-year-old and fourteen-year-old. Other passengers were taken to the hospital in critical condition.
Selling Alcohol to an Intoxicated Person
This crime is covered by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code § 101.63. It is illegal to serve a habitual drunkard or someone who is intoxicated or insane if done with criminal negligence. Note that selling to a habitual drunkard doesn’t require that the customer be drunk at the time of the sale. If you know he or she is a drunkard, you shouldn’t serve this person.
A first-time violation can result in a $500 fine and up to a year in jail. If this is your second violation of the law, you can face a maximum $1,000 fine and confinement in jail for a year. The odds of time behind bars increase considerably if you have a prior conviction for this or a similar offense, like selling alcohol to minors.
Defending against these charges is difficult. One defense is that you served the drunk driver but did so without criminal negligence. Criminal negligence essentially means you are aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk the defendant is intoxicated or a drunkard, or you should be aware of those facts. The state will point to certain factors, like the DWI driver’s speech or appearance, to argue you should have known not to serve this person. The state will probably also look for receipts to show how much alcohol the driver purchased from your business.
Businesses Face Fines, Too
In addition to arresting a server, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission could levy fines against a business and possibly suspend a liquor license or permit. Losing the ability to sell alcohol, even temporarily, could spell the death knell for certain businesses.
An establishment could also be sued in a civil dram shop lawsuit. Bars, restaurants, and taverns make tempting defendants because they carry large business liability insurance policies. Conversely, a drunk driver might carry only the minimum insurance or no policy at all.
Call Tad Nelson & Associates
Our DWI lawyers will gladly meet to discuss your case. No one should lose their livelihood or freedom for a simple mistake, and we do our best to defend clients. Call to schedule a free consultation.