INDIANAPOLIS - Attorneys for convenience stores told a federal judge on Thursday to freeze enforcement of an Indiana law that bars them from selling cold beer as unfair and unconstitutional, while the state said the stores can't prove the decades-old law harms them.
Under Indiana law, liquor stores are allowed to sell cold beer, while grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores aren't.
John Maley, the attorney representing the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association and three convenience store chains, told Judge Richard L. Young that the law essentially contradicts itself.
Maley said convenience stores can legally sell chilled wine and wine coolers with a higher alcohol content than beer, and the ban is generally enforced only in larger cities, not in small towns with fewer police. When the law is enforced, he said, it depends on officers' sense of touch, not a thermometer.
"There is no reason for that. It doesn't make sense," Maley said.
The law was written when modern convenience stores didn't exist, he said, and drug stores and grocery stores were just pharmacies and supermarkets.
Deputy Attorney General Ken Joel said the trade group, which represents the convenience stores Thorntons Inc., Ricker Oil Company and Freedom Oil, can't prove the law has done them any harm because the industry has swollen despite the cold beer ban.
"It's about making more money," Joel said.
"Why does the Legislature allow cold wine to be sold, but not cold beer?" Young asked.
Joel replied that the distinction was a "legislative prerogative."
He argued that liquor stores must abide by stricter alcohol laws than convenience stores. Customers must be over 21 to enter, and employees must undergo special training -- rules that don't apply to convenience store workers.
Retired state excise police Major Robin Poindexter testified that a survey of stores conducted by officers monitoring undercover underage purchasers found that 40 percent of retailers that sold alcohol sold to the minors, and liquor stores sold to them more often than convenience stores did.
But when Maley showed him a trio of high-tech thermometers he had bought on Amazon.com, the former officer said police used none of them. Determining whether or not beer is cold depends on an officer's sense of touch, he said.
Poindexter also said that Indiana residents can buy cold beer at convenience stores in neighboring Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.