Brief Fact Summary. Guminga (D), a restaurant owner, was charged with vicarious liability after D’s employee was caught serving liquor to a minor.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. An individual cannot be held liable for a crime punishable by imprisonment where that individual did not commit, have knowledge or give consent to the commission of that crime.
Issue. Does the vicarious liability statute, which imposes automatic vicarious liability on employers for their employees’ actions, violate the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments?
No one can be convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for an act that the individual did not commit, did not have knowledge of and did not consent to.
The court balanced the public interest of deterring the violation of liquor laws in imposing vicarious liability with the private interests of the individual upon which it is being imposed. Some of the private interests discussed include damage to reputation, liberty and other future disabilities arising from criminal prosecution for an act that D did not commit. The court found that the private interests outweighed the public and suggested instead that deterrence can be accomplished by imposing fines and suspending liquor licenses of establishments where liquor law are violated.
Dissent. The dissent advances the opinion that private interests are outweighed by the public interest of preventing liquor from being sold to minors and believes that the state, in exchange for granting liquor licenses, has the right to impose vicarious liability on bar and restaurant owners.
Discussion. This case introduces the concept of vicarious liability to the discussion of strict liability and different levels of culpability. According to the notes following the case, most courts uphold convictions of employers based on vicarious liability where there is no fault.