A couple of beers after work
Jennings, a supervisor for a Sacramento steel company, and four co-workers went over to Jennings’ house after work to watch a videotape of some new machinery the company was buying.
How can you say no to an invitation like that?
In route to Jennings’ house, one worker stopped at a 7-11 and bought a 12-pack of “Natural Light.”
When that was gone, Jennings asked his wife to go to the store and get more beer. She returned with a 12-pack of “Corona,” which the five men sat in the garage and drank.
Remember, these are men.
They watched the video, drank more beers, then discussed the hazards of drunk driving.
Jennings warned the two younger employees, Fosnough and Turpin, to be careful as they each drove home.
Unfortunately it was too late.
Turpin drove his VW Beetle erratically, first on the wrong side of the road, then he passed on the left when it was not safe, and finally he failed to stop at a stop sign and somehow broad-sided Fosnough’s vehicle – resulting in major injuries to himself and his passenger and to Fosnough.
Furnishing a minor
California law prohibits the “sale, furnishing…or giving away of any alcoholic beverage to any person under the age of 21 years; …any person who violates this subdivision and the person under the age of 21 thereafter consumes the alcohol and thereby…causes great bodily injury or death…is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Jennings was charged with furnishing beer for Turpin, who drank, then seriously injured himself and others.
Defense to criminal charges
Jennings defended the charges claiming he did not know that Turpin was a minor.
He tried to present evidence that Turpin’s job application did not have a date of birth, nor did he have access to Turpin’s work records.
Plus there was a prior situation where Turpin, Jennings and several other workers were standing in the parking lot of a convenience store drinking beer (there’s a clue), when a police office pulled up and asked Turpin if he was 21.
Turpin told him he was 22. The cop believed him. So did Jennings.
Jennings’ pitch in the court case was that he had no reason to believe Turpin was a minor, so how he could be convicted of a misdemeanor without actual criminal intent.
Most crimes require proof of criminal intent, called mens rea (guilty mind) under the law.
The Court of Appeal exhaustedly examined the legislative intent behind the furnishing-of-alcohol-to-a-minor law.
In the end, the legislature decided to make the furnishing law what is called a “wobbler,” meaning it could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
The Court concluded that the legislature intended that if an individual is charged as a felony for furnishing alcohol to a minor, it requires proof that the furnisher knew the minor was under 21, whereas if the crime is charged as a misdemeanor, the furnisher of alcohol can be convicted even without knowing the minor was under 21, a “strict liability” (automatic) crime, which is both rare and at times harsh.
Jennings is guilty of furnishing alcohol to a minor, which resulted in great bodily injury – a misdemeanor.
Unfortunate for everyone.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter-Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno.
He is a mediator and was the governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm’s web site http://www.portersimon.com