Can my liquor license be revoked for unauthorized importation of liquor into Illinois?
The State of Illinois imposes strict restrictions on the importation of alcohol. Illinois is authorized to impose these restrictions by the U.S. Constitution. The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution states as follows:
“The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”
Another way of saying this is that no one can bring alcohol into a state unless doing so complies with the laws of that state.
Penalties for Unauthorized Importation
The penalties for improperly importing alcohol into the State of Illinois are set forth in the Section 10-1 of the Illinois Liquor Control Act. 235 ILCS 5/10-1(a). The preamble to that section states as follows:
Whereas a substantial threat to the sound and careful control, regulation, and taxation of the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcoholic liquors exists by virtue of individuals who manufacture, import, distribute, or sell alcoholic liquors within the State without having first obtained a valid license to do so, and whereas such threat is especially serious along the borders of this State, and whereas such threat requires immediate correction by this Act, by active investigation and prosecution by law enforcement officials and prosecutors, and by prompt and strict enforcement through the courts of this State to punish violators and to deter such conduct in the future: 235 ILCS 5/10-1.
In order to address the “threat” described in the preamble the Act sets forth the following penalties:
(a) Any person who manufactures, imports for distribution or use, transports from outside this State into this State, or distributes or sells 108 liters (28.53 gallons) or more of wine, 45 liters (11.88 gallons) or more of distilled spirits, or 118 liters (31.17 gallons) or more of beer at any place within the State without having first obtained a valid license to do so under the provisions of this Act shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony for each offense.
Any person who manufactures, imports for distribution, transports from outside this State into this State for sale or resale in this State, or distributes or sells less than 108 liters (28.53 gallons) of wine, less than 45 liters (11.88 gallons) of distilled spirits, or less than 118 liters (31.17 gallons) of beer at any place within the State without having first obtained a valid license to do so under the provisions of this Act shall be guilty of a business offense and fined not more than $1,000 for the first such offense and shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony for each subsequent offense. This subsection does not apply to a motor carrier or freight forwarder, as defined in Section 13102 of Title 49 of the United States Code, an air carrier, as defined in Section 40102 of Title 49 of the United States Code, or a rail carrier, as defined in Section 10102 of Title 49 of the United States Code.
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Any person who both has been issued an initial cease and desist notice from the State Commission and for compensation ships alcoholic liquor into this State without a license authorized by Section 5-1 issued by the State Commission or in violation of that license is guilty of a Class 4 felony for each offense. 235 ILCS 5/10-1(a)
As you can see, the statute makes no distinction between liquor to be consumed for personal use and liquor to be resold. Therefore, no matter the reason for moving the liquor into Illinois, the strict limits set forth above apply. The importation of liquor above the threshold amounts set forth in the statute is an immediate Class IV felony. While the violation for illegal importation of liquor below these amounts is a bit more lenient, such a violation can still lead to an eventual Class IV felony. A Class IV felony, which includes aggravated assault and theft of government property, can be punishable by up to three years in prison.
For Illinois liquor license holders, violation of the statue can also result in the loss of their business license. Recently the Illinois Liquor Control Commission sought to revoke a business owner’s liquor license for violation of this statute. The Commission ended up imposing a substantial fine upon a liquor store owner even though it was his first offense. The fine was based on a police report and testimony from a Cook County Sheriff’s officer who testified that he tracked the liquor store owner from a liquor store in Indiana across the border to his Illinois liquor store. The testimony revealed that the Sheriff’s officer had no reason to suspect that the liquor store owner would be traveling to Illinois when it decided to follow him out of the liquor store. The lesson to be learned from this case is that all restaurant and liquor store owners must be diligent to ensure that all of the liquor sold in their establishments was properly purchased from an Illinois distributor. Moreover, even private citizens who are purchasing liquor for noncommercial use could run afoul of the Liquor Control Act and be subject to prosecution for class IV felony.
If you are the owner of a liquor establishment and are found to have violated this section of the Liquor Control Act or have received any correspondence from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, it is important that you contact a qualified Chicago liquor license attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. The experienced liquor license attorneys at Hays Firm LLC are available to counsel you regarding your options and represent you during the hearing in front of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. Please feel free to contact us anytime with your questions.