Many permit holders have never received a citation for an alleged violation of liquor laws. However, should they receive that first citation, it is important that they understand the process leading up to and including the hearing before the Liquor Control Commission.
Knowledge of the process lessens the confusion and makes the experience a little less intimidating. The Liquor Control Commission's procedures for hearings are set forth in the Ohio Administrative Code, Section 4301:1-1-65.
Only State of Ohio liquor investigators have the authority to issue a liquor citation. The State of Ohio's Liquor Enforcement Investigators are housed in the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
The citation is issued on a form called a "violation notice" that specifies the nature of the alleged violation. Local law enforcement personnel, such as police officers or deputy sheriffs, who witness liquor violations, must request that a violation notice be issued by liquor investigators. Local officials do not have the authority to issue liquor violation notices. After a citation has been issued, the liquor investigators prepare a report describing the alleged violation and forward it to the Ohio Attorney General's Office - Liquor Unit for prosecution before the Liquor Control Commission. Upon receipt, the Attorney General's office forwards a questionnaire to the permit holder at the permit premises asking whether the permit holder intends to admit or deny the charges at the hearing before the Commission.
Permit holders should return the questionnaire to the Attorney General's office for two reasons. First, it gives the permit holder the opportunity to inform the Attorney General's office that an attorney will represent the permit holder at the hearing so that the attorney also will get a copy of the notice of hearing. Second, if the permit holder denies the charges, the Attorney General's office will subpoena its witnesses to the hearing. The Liquor Control Commission recommends that you contact a qualified liquor attorney. For a list of attorneys you can contact the Ohio State Bar Association, or the Columbus Bar Association, or your local bar association.
If the questionnaire is not returned to the Attorney General's office, or if the permit holder admits the allegation, then no witnesses will be subpoenaed to the hearing. The significance of this is that if the permit holder decides to contest the allegations the day of the hearing and no questionnaire previously has been returned indicating a denial, the Commission will continue the case at the hearing to allow the state to secure its witnesses. This means the permit holder will have to make more than one trip to Columbus for the hearing if the charges are contested.
All citations are scheduled for hearing before the Liquor Control Commission. Permit holders will receive a notice of hearing at their permit premises approximately three to four weeks prior to the hearing date. Hearings are on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in the Riffe Office Tower, 77 South High Street, 19th floor, in downtown Columbus. Click here for directions to Columbus. On average, there are 70 to 90 hearings docketed on any hearing day, all set for 9:00 a.m.
Permit holders are strongly encouraged to attend their hearings. They should check in with the bailiff of the Commission so that the Attorney General's office is aware they are present. The bailiff will ask whether the permit holder admits the charges alleged (tantamount to a "guilty" plea), denies the charges but will stipulate to the truth of the investigator's report (tantamount to a "no contest" plea), or denies the charges (a "not guilty" plea). NOTE: If the permit holder is a corporation, that permit holder must be represented in a contested hearing by an attorney.
In both admission and denial with stipulation cases, the permit holder will be given an opportunity to make a statement in mitigation of any penalty imposed. These cases usually are heard first. In presenting matters in mitigation, you should advise the Commissioners of any training or other actions you have taken to ensure the event that led to this hearing does not recur.
Cases in which the permit holder denies the charges proceed to a full adversarial hearing. Each side will be given the opportunity to call witnesses, and the other side may cross-examine those witnesses. If a permit holder contests a charge, it is important to bring witnesses who have first-hand knowledge of the events concerning the charge so they can testify. A permit holder, in a denial case, may not be allowed to say what others told him about the matter because that evidence may be hearsay. Bring people with first-hand knowledge if you want to contest a charge.
The Commission has the authority to suspend or revoke the liquor permit if it finds the permit holder guilty. The Commission also may extend the option to the permit holder of paying a fine in lieu of suspension in certain circumstances, depending upon the permit holder's prior citation record. The Commission does not announce its decision the day of the hearing. Rather, an order will be mailed to the liquor permit business address approximately two to four weeks after the hearing date. The order will specify the length of the suspension, the amount of the optional fine, if any, and the date the fine must be paid. The Commission is only authorized to accept payment of the fine in one of three forms: bank check, certified check or money order. Late payments cannot be accepted for any reason. If a payment is late, it is returned to the permit holder, who will then have to serve the ordered suspension.
The Liquor Control Commission hearing schedule is set annually and is subject to change based upon volume of cases, availability of hearing space and other undetermined factors. If hearing dates are changed, the Commission will make every effort to make interested parties aware of changes on a timely basis.
The Liquor Control Commission will hold not less than four hearings annually for the purpose of providing a venue for the public to air general concerns as to Commission policies under Chapters 4301 and 4303 of the Ohio Revised Code. At those meetings the Commission will hear suggestions with respect to these policies. The public meetings offer the Commission the opportunity to disseminate information to the public. The dates for these public hearings are noted on the above hearing schedules.