Posted on: January 11, 2024

Can You Get a Liquor License With a Felony?

If you're trying to get back on your feet after a brush with the legal system, priority number one is gainful employment. But with certain convictions on your record, that's easier said than done.

Bar jobs are popular for a reason, but most states have restrictive laws about the sale of beer or liquor. So you might be asking, can a felon work in a bar? Can a felon own a bar? Can you get a liquor license with a criminal record?

Can A Felon Be a Bartender?

There are actually a few questions packed into this one, so let's take them one by one.

Can Felons Legally Serve Alcohol?

Laws about who can legally serve alcohol and in what context are typically set at the state level. However, in many cases, states allow counties and/or municipalities to institute their own rules. As a result, the answer is really going to depend on exactly where you live.

In other words, you need to look up state and local laws to be sure. You should look for:

  • The minimum age for serving alcohol (because criminal record or not, it's a factor),
  • Whether alcohol servers need a "bar license" in your jurisdiction
  • Whether a local law or liquor board policy exists regarding alcohol service with a criminal record.

Generally speaking, however, most jurisdictions don't legally prohibit bartenders from having a felony record. Only a few states have laws that could prohibit felons from serving alcohol: Indiana, Kansas, and Washington State.

Can Felons Get Hired as Bartenders?

So, in most jurisdictions, you can legally become a bartender with a felony, but can you get a job? That's where the rubber meets the road.

It's going to depend on the individual bar and its ownership. It's at the business's discretion, and each has its own policies.

There are good reasons that bars may refuse. To keep their liquor license, their business needs to follow all relevant laws, and if you have a felony record, you've proven you're not so great at that. Additionally, the actions of an alcohol-serving employee come with civil (and sometimes even criminal) liability. For some owners, it's a risk they're not willing to take.

However, there are bar owners who see an advantage in hiring people who are turning their lives around. Most owners will take into account the individual situation: how long it's been since your felony, how you've behaved since then, and what the conviction was for.

If you've got an alcohol or drug-related offense on your record, it might be harder to find someone who will take a chance. This holds true for violent or sexually motivated crimes.

If you're having trouble getting hired, see if someone will take a chance on you as a barback first and let you prove yourself. It's a lower risk for them if you're not actually serving alcohol.

Can You Get a Liquor License with a Felony?

For that matter, can you get a liquor license with a misdemeanor?

Bar ownership is synonymous with a liquor license, so this is the big hurdle standing between people with criminal records and ownership of a bar.

First, you need to know that a criminal record will come up when you apply for a liquor license. It's best that you disclose it upfront and in detail. The state liquor bureau will almost certainly run a criminal background check, and if you fail to disclose, that's an automatic rejection. After all, you just tried to commit fraud.

Second, you need to know that, as long as you disclose your record on your initial application, a criminal conviction doesn't automatically bar you from eligibility. Liquor boards will consider your individual situation before making a decision.

Usually, they take into account the nature of the crime, the number of convictions, how long ago your last conviction occurred, and whether the conviction was a felony or misdemeanor.

Some states have particular types of convictions that are an automatic no – selling alcohol without a license and serving to a minor are common examples. Some states consider any alcohol-related crime disqualifying. In other cases, any crime of "moral turpitude" may be an obstacle. This includes gambling and drug convictions.

The truth is that liquor licenses are often denied due to a felony record. A misdemeanor is slightly easier to overcome as long as it's not alcohol-related.

How Can Felons Get a Liquor License?

Whether you've been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor, you can take steps to increase your likelihood of success in obtaining a liquor license.

One is to prove good citizenship for at least five years from the completion of your sentence or parole before attempting to open a bar. Follow all parole or release requirements, get, and stay clean (if applicable), obey the law to the letter, pay your taxes, and become an active voter if the law allows.

Another route is to have a business partner (or partners) with a clean record apply for the license instead of, or in conjunction with, yourself. The validity of the solution will vary based on your state's laws and requirements. Some states require the license holder to be on-premises, which prevents your license holder from being a silent partner. Other states require all business partners to appear on the license.

Another potential solution is to get your record expunged or obtain a pardon. There is typically a waiting period before you're eligible to apply for either.

No matter which route you decide to take, you'll want to start by hiring a lawyer. They'll be able to advise you of your options and likelihood of success. They'll also improve your odds by facilitating the process. Your best chance of getting a liquor license with a felony or a misdemeanor is to have legal representation on your side.

Protect Yourself with Online Alcohol Server Training

Liquor licenses are just one legal hurdle imposed on bar owners by state governments. Requirements for bar licenses and alcohol server training are another. Finally, even in states where training isn't explicitly required, bar owners (and bartenders) may be subject to civil and/or criminal liability if something goes wrong when they serve the wrong person.

Our responsible alcohol server training meets state training requirements in many places, and it arms servers with the skills they need to prevent costly mistakes. In states like Texas, consistently using our training can protect the business owner from potential penalties for employee errors.

We have business plans for state-specific courses that are online, self-paced, and effective. Enroll your staff now!