A fact finding hearing is usually much worse than it sounds. The ABC Board is authorized to hold several different types of hearings. Among them, is a fact finding. In a fact finding, you haven’t been formally accused of anything…yet. The Board just has some questions that they want to ask you. If that sounds ominous, it should. A fact finding hearing is a minefield that must be carefully navigated to avoid a violation. The fact finding process is supposedly non-adversarial and the letter that you receive inviting you to such a hearing rarely even informs you what the Board wants to ask you about. If, as a licensee, you get one of these notices you are right to be skeptical. In many cases, the façade of a fact finding hides a potential dumpster fire beneath. Far too many owners are content to play the dupe and show up unrepresented, unprepared and having no idea what the Board wants to ask them, or why.
‘You have the right to remain silent’…just not the ability
Everyone is familiar with the first line of the Miranda warning from every cop and lawyer show ever. “You have the right to remain silent.” When you have a liquor license in D.C., you do not have a Constitutional protection against self-incrimination as if you’ve been arrested for a crime. In fact, you have affirmative statutory duties to assist the Agency in hanging you out to dry. For example, you must provide access to investigators and cops without delay; you must turn over books and records when asked; and you may not do anything to interfere with an investigation. But, for god sake, that does not mean that you have to show up to a public hearing, by yourself, and vomit out a confession of everything you have done wrong since age 9. Recently, I was reviewing a fact finding transcript in preparation for a show cause, because, the owner had talked herself into multiple violations. Anyway, the transcript was infested with foolish and needless admissions of wrongdoing and finger-pointing. At the end we had to take an ugly deal from the prosecutor to mitigate risk of a worse punishment. Look, if the Board is holding a fact finding hearing, it means they don’ t have enough evidence, to accuse you of a violation. By rolling in there and spewing unfiltered information, you may talk them into a referral for prosecution.
Don’t be your own worst enemy
If you get a fact finding letter from the Board, and you are thinking of just showing up and seeing what they have to say, do yourself a favor, don’t. Call a pro, get the lay of the land, and have someone to protect you from yourself. If you’ve received a fact finding notice, or any notice for that matter, and you’d like to discuss your options, please feel free to contact me or use my online scheduling tool to set up a free case evaluation call with me at your convenience.