Once, Twice, Three Sips a Criminal in Texas?

Jeffrey CarrNovember 15, 2016 5 minutes

I had an odd experience a couple of weeks ago. I met up with a friend at a bar, which was moderately crowded. There were some open seats, but they were all bunched too close to people and other groups for me to feel comfortable grabbing one. Doing what any reasonable person would do, I staked out a spot at the bar, next to my friend, and ordered a drink.

I hadn't finished more than half the beer when my friend informed me that I had broken the law. Incredulous, I asked him, "Exactly what law have I broken by drinking half of a beer?"

"The 3 Sip Law," he replied. "In Texas, it's illegal to drink more than 3 sips of beer while standing."

I told my friend that he must be mistaken. In a past life, I was certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to sling drinks in the state of Texas. Part of that certification is an overview of relevant Texas law and a bit of training to spot intoxicated patrons. Nowhere in the law portion of the class did I ever hear of The 3 Sips of Beer Law.

As with any bar argument in this day an age, it degenerated into an internet search. My friend was able to produce site after site all claiming that Texas has a ban on taking more than 3 sips of beer while standing. My friend concluded that this was the end of the argument. I refused to concede defeat, because the sites generally fell into two categories, links to morning zoo radio lists of strange laws and dumb law websites. None of these sources linked to an actual law or even reproduced the text of the "3 Sip Law."

One of the great things about our country is that laws don't exist in arks or secret repositories, only to be viewed by a select caste. Our laws are public knowledge and subject to public scrutiny. In fact, while presidents, governors, and mayors are always keen for law-signing photo-ops, laws cannot actually go into effect until they are published in the appropriate government register. For the "3 Sips of Beer Law" to actually be a law, the text must be written down somewhere.

So my friend and I were, at an impasse. He believed that the overwhelming quantity of web sites promulgating the veracity of the "3 Sip Law" was clear proof that he was right, while I was suspicious that none of them could produce any actual text of the supposed law. Things most likely would have stayed this way my friend not stumbled across an attorney's blog. He still didn't produce an actual law, but the fact that he was an officer of the court was enough for my friend to conclude the matter settled in his favor.

While may friend may have won the skirmish, the lack of any text, was reason enough for me not to concede the war.

What Does the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Have to Say about the 3 Sip Law?

When I got back into the office the next week, I made a point of tracking down the "3 Sips of Beer Law," if it actually existed. First, I fired off an email to TABC. Secondly, I ran a quick search of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. While waiting to hear back from the TABC, I was unable to find any "3 Sip of Beer Law" anywhere within the 300 pages that makes up the Code.

Next up was an internet rabbit hole of message boards, some of which seemed to point the finger at the town of Lefors, Texas as the source of this infamous law. For those not familiar with Lefors, it is a panhandle hamlet of almost 500 people according to the most recent census. It's small size also means that unlike larger municipalities, the laws and ordinances of this fair town are not available online. Of all the towns in Texas to have a "3 Sips of Beer Law," Lafors seems to be the least likely town, because it doesn't appear to have a single bar. In fact, if you're in Lefors, it looks like you have to drive over to Pampa if you want to wet your whistle with an adult beverage.

While trying to figure out how I was going to phrase my request to drive to Lefors to the powers that be, I received a reply from TABC. An official with the TABC confirmed my reading of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. There is not, nor has there ever been a "3 Sip of Beer" prohibition in state law. The official also stated that even if such a local law does exist, it is likely unenforceable because it conflicts with the Alcoholic Beverage Code.

The official did acknowledge that their are adequate seating requirements that are placed on bars, but nothing that would prevent someone from consuming a beer while standing, which is about the closest connection anyone could make between the myth and a real part of the law.

In short, the 3 Sips of Beer prohibition is a myth.

Why Do Myths Like the 3 Sips of Beer Myth Exist?

Urban myths cut across all areas of life. It shouldn't be a surprise that urban myths also spring up about laws. While the 3 Sips of Beer Myth is mostly for laughs, there are myths that have dangerous real-world consequences, such as the belief that pedestrians always have the right of way.

I can't find fault for people who believe the 3 Sips of Beer Myth. Even though it is a lie, it's one that has persisted for some time, without anyone objecting to the truth.

The 3 Sip of Beer Myth is also a fantastic lesson, not just in the law, but also in life. As a species, knowledge is so vast and diffuse that if were we to spend our lives tracking down the truth of everything that we are told, we would spend our time doing little else. In order to live in society, we have no choice but to take people's word for things. This doesn't mean that we should not approach what we're told with a bit of skepticism, but to challenge everything that sounds implausible would be impossible.

What bothers me most by the 3 Sips of Beer Myth and other similar myths is that some lawyers seem to be taken in by them. I realize that for many lawyers, blogs are a part-time activity that is a tool to drum up business. It provides a chance to loosen their ties and try to connect with people on a different level. That being said, a lawyer giving an ill-informed, uneducated opinion about a law is akin to a doctor endorsing a health supplement without fully investigating it.

I spoke with attorney Michael Grossman on the matter and his take was that "when lawyers spread these urban myths about the law, it damages the profession." When relating information about the law to the general public, a lawyer always has credibility because of their training. This credibility when thrown around without regard to the veracity of a matter damages the credibility of not only the lawyers who have been duped by this myth, but the profession in general.

There is already a reluctance by many people to enlist the help of an attorney when the obviously need it. Attorneys often pose the question to people, "If you wouldn't do your own surgery, why would you do your own litigation?" Implicit in this question is that the difference between a lawyer's knowledge of the law and a layman's is akin to the difference in medical knowledge between a doctor and the average Joe. Attorney's throwing out bad information, perpetuating a myth, undermines this argument, one of the more persuasive arguments in the legal toolbox.

I suppose the most surprising part of the 3 Sips of Beer Myth and other odds laws is that it never occurred to me that there would be such a shortage of dumb laws that we would have to actually make some up. We literally have a law on the books that outlaws war.

In the end, unless the "dumb law" that is referenced has a link or textual citation, it is best to view it with suspicion. In just looking over various lists for this article, I found at least a half a dozen other "dumb Texas laws," which are either no longer on the books or have become unenforceable due to court decisions. Since the very point of a law is that it must be enforceable, such "dumb laws" don't merit the name.

The law is a complex beast that very rarely fits neatly into a punchy list or a meme. Those who think they've found a way to do so are usually either brilliant or fools.