In the State of California, certain situations are effectively against the law to ask someone to buy you a drink.
Under Penal Code 303a PC, it's a misdemeanor to loiter in or near any bar or restaurant that sells alcohol for the purpose of asking patrons to buy you an alcoholic beverage. You could face up to 6 months in jail if you're convicted of this offense.
Put simply, this statute makes it a crime to loiter in or around a bar or restaurant to ask other patrons to purchase alcohol.
PC 303a says, “It shall be unlawful, in any place of business where alcoholic beverages are sold to be consumed on the premises, for anyone to loiter in or about the premises for the purpose of begging or soliciting any patron or customer of, or visitor in, such premises to purchase any alcoholic beverage for the one begging or soliciting. A violation of this section is a misdemeanor.”
In this law, “loitering” means for someone to remain in a particular place even though they have no lawful reason to be there. A classic example includes a situation where a minor under 18 hangs out in front of a bar, asking people to buy them some drinks.
Of note is that PC 303a only applies to businesses that sell alcohol to consume on their premises. Thus, it does not apply to liquor stores or convenience stores that sell alcohol to take to another location.
A possible defense is to argue that the defendant was not loitering near a business subject to this law. Let's review this state statute further below.
Overview of PC 303a
To be convicted of loitering to solicit the purchase of alcohol under Penal Code 303(a) PC, the prosecutor must establish three things:
- You were loitering;
- You were doing so in or near an establishment that sells alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises; and
- You did so to “ beg or solicit” a patron or visitor to buy you an alcoholic drink.
Other things to know about this law:
- Loitering means lingering or idling in a particular place without any apparent lawful purpose. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing anything illegal...only that you appear to be up to no good. This is important because if you have a legitimate reason to be at the restaurant or bar (e.g., eating dinner), you aren't violating PC 303a if you ask someone to buy you a drink.
- PC 303a only applies to establishments that sell alcohol for consumption on the premises. It doesn't apply to liquor stores or grocery stores that sell alcohol because those items aren't meant to be consumed on-site.
- You don't have to solicit alcohol to be charged with this crime. PC 303a makes it illegal to loiter for the purpose of soliciting alcohol. Although it's difficult for prosecutors to prove unless you make a request, they only need to show that you intended to solicit alcohol.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Tom and his friends are under the legal drinking age. They are hanging out in the parking lot of a nightclub and asking people entering the club to buy them beers. Tom and his friends can be charged under PC 303a.
EXAMPLE 2: Karen is of legal drinking age, and she's at a bar with some friends. After buying a cocktail, she realizes she's short on cash and asks her friend to “buy the next round.” Karen is not guilty under PC 303a because she is a bar patron and is not loitering.
EXAMPLE 3: David is 19 years old and is trying to buy a bottle of wine for a college party. He hangs out in the parking lot of a liquor store, approaches someone going inside, hands him some cash, and asks if he'll buy a bottle of wine for him.
While David (and the liquor store patron) may be violating other laws, David can't be charged under PC 303a because the establishment around which he's loitering doesn't sell alcohol for consumption on the premises.
EXAMPLE 4: Lisa, a prostitute, is loitering in a hotel lobby. She approaches a man headed into the hotel bar, flirts with him, and asks him to buy her a drink, hoping to turn a trick. Even if she never gets around to soliciting the man for sex, she can still be charged with loitering to solicit an alcohol purchase under PC 303a.
What Are the Related Crimes?
- Penal Code 647(f) PC – public intoxication;
- Penal Code 653(f) PC – solicitation to commit a crime;
- Penal Code 272 PC – contribute to the delinquency of minors;
- BPC 25658 – furnishing or selling alcohol to a minor;
- BPC 25662 – minor in possession of alcohol.
What Are the Legal Penalties?
PC 303a loitering to solicit an alcohol purchase is always a misdemeanor in California. The maximum sentence is six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Additionally, the court may order you to attend an alcohol education program and perform community service. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the judge also has the latitude to impose summary probation as an alternative to jail time.
What Are the Common Defenses for PC 303a?
The most common defense strategies to counter charges under PC 303a involve disproving one or more of the key elements of the crime mentioned above (i.e., loitering at a qualifying establishment, soliciting alcohol, etc.). These defenses are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you were not loitering. If you can show you were at the establishment for a legitimate reason, you can't be convicted of this crime.
Perhaps we can argue that You weren't near a qualifying establishment. If, for example, you were hanging out across the street from the bar or restaurant, it might be difficult for prosecutors to prove your intent to solicit drinks.
Perhaps you didn't solicit alcohol. For example, maybe you asked someone to buy you a ginger ale or club soda.
Perhaps we can argue that there was no probable cause for arrest. Police must have probable cause to suspect you of committing a crime to arrest you. If your attorney can show probable cause did not exist, the case may be dismissed regardless of your guilt or innocence.
Contact our California criminal defense attorneys to review the case details and legal options if you seek legal representation for a crime. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles. Contact us by phone or fill out the contact form.