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Is it against the law to drink in public?
June 16, 2006 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Is there any law against drinking (alcohol) in public? Or is it being inebriated in public? Or neither?

I've been told by friends that it is illegal to drink in public. I have seen people drinking on subways and all over the streets of new york. I have never seen anyone get in trouble over it. Is it against the law? Is it only if I get drunk that I can get in trouble or is even one beer "too much"? Many mini-markets will sell you the beer in a paper bag so that a passerby would not realize it was a beer (although the fact that anyone is drinking from a paper bag makes it suspicious). Does this help at all? Does it matter if it is in a bag or not?
(Also, is there a place online where I can check what the laws of the state I am in are? Preferably a site that is written in a language that the average man understands (ie. no legalese).)
Please note: I am over the legal drinking age and am currently in NY but I would like to know if the laws vary by state also. I spend time in a couple of other states (CA, NJ, PA etc.) so i don't just want to know about NY.
posted by D Wiz to Law & Government (38 answers total)
 
It is illegal in most places (Las Vegas being a notable exception) to carry an open container of alcohol as you walk down the street. That does not, however, mean that it's not done; it's like jaywalking, it's technically illegal but the cops have way more pressing things to deal with than some dude walking down the street with an open 40 in a bag.

However, if said 40-drinkin' dude gets belligerent, aggressive, or violent, that's a different story, and the cops will pay more attention.
posted by pdb at 12:33 PM on June 16, 2006


IANAL but I know the laws vary from state to state, and even from locale to locale. I live in Salt Lake and it's trouble if you are caught drinking in public. Regardless of whether or not you are trashed. However, this was severely relaxed during the Olympics :)

As far as I know, the bag just hides the bottle therefore disguising the alcohol so there is no visual "proof" that you are drinking alcohol in public.
posted by blueplasticfish at 12:34 PM on June 16, 2006


Alcohol laws definitely vary by state, and a lot of times vary by city & county (Texas is a great example of this with "wet" and "dry" counties).

My understanding is that in New York you can consume alcohol in public as long as the container is bagged so that no one can tell it's alcohol. But, IANAL or a cop.
posted by witchstone at 12:35 PM on June 16, 2006


Some places (like New Orleans, and Beale Street in Memphis) allow "open containers." I think that, in the US, places like that are the exception to the rule. My guess is that, when you see people drinking openly in major cities (I am mostly referring here to homeless-looking people), they are not making an effort to conceal it because you do not look like the police.
posted by penchant at 12:36 PM on June 16, 2006


Obviously, it will depend on were you are. Here (Minnesota) it's not. Specifically, 340A.902 states:
No person may be charged with or convicted of the offense
of drunkenness or public drunkenness. Nothing herein prevents
the prosecution and conviction of an intoxicated person for
offenses other than drunkenness or public drunkenness nor does
this section relieve a person from civil liability for an injury
to persons or property caused by the person while intoxicated.
posted by Rifkin at 12:37 PM on June 16, 2006


IANAL???

If the alcohol is bagged, does a cop have a right to come over to you and demand to see what is in the bag? Or only if you are acting weirdly and being loud etc.
posted by D Wiz at 12:38 PM on June 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


In NYC the police don't usually care as long as it's bagged. If it's not they see that as blatant disrespect for their authority. However if there is a push on to clean up some neighborhood or other they will either ticket you or ask you to dump it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:38 PM on June 16, 2006


What is the penalty for drinking in public in NY? Can you get jailed for it? Or it is only a monetary penalty?
posted by D Wiz at 12:40 PM on June 16, 2006


In my not-too-distant experience, the NYC police will stop and check the bag even if you are not bothering anyone.
During the Giuliani administration, a friend and I were walking through Washington Square Park and he had an open beer in a bag. The police saw him and must have noticed that he tensed up or something because they stopped us and made him dump the beer. They also cited him so he had to appear in court and pay the fine (he couldn't mail it in). Quite a pain in the ass. (BTW IANAL means "I am not a lawyer").
posted by exogenous at 12:42 PM on June 16, 2006


IANAL = "I Am Not A Lawyer" (just in case that was a question, using the question mark and all...)

in New Orleans, alcohol containers for use in public areas are sometimes called "take alongs" (at least, that's what we called them). Funny story - I lived in New Orleans as a teenager, then moved to Virginia. My first job is at a family pizza restaurant that allowed customers to order a beer while they wait for their to-go pizza. Once I had a customer in mid-beer when his order was ready to go, and I asked him if he wanted his beer to go too, and poured it into a cardboard soda cup and put a lid on it for him and sent him on his merry way, never realizing that I had totally violated state ABC laws. :o)
posted by crepeMyrtle at 12:44 PM on June 16, 2006


What is the penalty for drinking in public in NY? Can you get jailed for it? Or it is only a monetary penalty?

I think this depends of the daily enforcement agenda. When Guiliani was push the "quality of life" agenda you could expect to spend a night in custody for turnstile jumping, joint smoking, etc. At other times it would be a ticket with a $50 to $200 fine.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:49 PM on June 16, 2006


In Philly it's against the law. But, this isn't enforced very strictly as far as I can tell--especially during the 4th and other big events (Live8 etc).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2006


In NYC, the relevant law is Section 10-125 of the New York City Administrative Code. The penalty is a $25 fine or up to 5 days in jail.

(Although I found another source that indicates it may have been amended to be a fine of up to $150.)
posted by smackfu at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2006


...and plugging that section number into Google spit out a very long Google Answer on the subject.
posted by smackfu at 12:53 PM on June 16, 2006


According to smackfu's link the NYC law has changed so the fine can be mailed in (no cruel and unusual standing in line all day at the courthouse).
posted by exogenous at 1:00 PM on June 16, 2006


Here in the US Virgin Islands, it's legal to walk around with an open container, and to drive with an open container.

It's not legal to drive drunk, but as a practical matter, you're highly unlikely to get caught unless you run into something.

We are the exception, not the rule.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:03 PM on June 16, 2006


smackfu... how did you find the law section #? In the future if I want to know what the law is, how can I find it (other than posting on ask mefi) ?
posted by D Wiz at 1:06 PM on June 16, 2006


I was walking with three friends of mine on houston street, they all had open (brown paper bagged) containers. A plainsclothes cop had them dump their beer out, gave them each a $50 fine but when they went to court the charges were thrown out. I think in NYC it's an issue of if the cops don't care, you're OK, if they have a quota to meet that day, you'll get a ticket. No one will ticket you for being inebriated unless you're causing a disturbance.

Also, I just found out it is legal to consume alcohol in prospect park. Weee!
posted by marxfriedrice at 1:10 PM on June 16, 2006


There are a number of ways you could potentially get in trouble for drinking in public. As others have indicated, it is common to have a (rarely-enforced) law against drinking in public. Other possibilities include:
-It is contrary to the terms of an establishment's liquor licence to serve alcohol for consumption off the premises.
-Serving alcohol to someone else requires a liquor licence (if you are not on your own residential property or another specifically exempted place).
posted by winston at 1:34 PM on June 16, 2006


(hit submit too soon)

...this is the way it is here in Ontario, Canada. But I don't think these rules are uncommon.
posted by winston at 1:35 PM on June 16, 2006


A friend and I were walking through Washington Square Park and he had an open beer in a bag.…They stopped us and made him dump the beer. They also cited him so he had to appear in court and pay the fine

Well, that's what you get for breaking the law in the one of the city's places most notorious for bringing out both a high number of dirtbags and a vast number of rubes. WSP is where cops go for the easy pickings.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:40 PM on June 16, 2006


In the future if I want to know what the law is, how can I find it...

Many municipal codes are now available on Lexis-Nexis, but not New York City's. For that you must go to the NY State Legislature website, click on "Laws of New York," then scroll down to the Miscellaneous section and follow the link labeled "ADC New York City Administrative Code."

But in your particular case, Google has all the answers.
posted by naomi at 1:43 PM on June 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


Google has all the answers.

Duh... as smackfu already noted. I blame the fact that open containers are still legal anywhere in Memphis, except downtown (excluding Beale) and while driving a car.
posted by naomi at 1:47 PM on June 16, 2006


I'm not a lawyer, but my experience with this law has been selective enforcement. I never saw a cop hassle the guy wearing a $2000 suit and $200 tie who took a chased silver flask out of his pocket for a swig of $100 single-malt; the Puerto Rican drunkards who sexually harass women every year on the occasion of their territorial parade get clapped into irons post-haste, on nearly any pretext.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:11 PM on June 16, 2006


Last year I got a $25 fine for drinking a beer on the street in Manhattan. I asked the cop if I should dump it out and he told me to go ahead and finish it and added, almost apologetically, "Next time put it a bag. I've got no reason to stop you if it's in a bag."

YMMV.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:18 PM on June 16, 2006


A friend of mine from the UK spent a night in jail in San Francisco for drinking a beer on the sidewalk (in front of a club on Broadway). I think ikkyu2 is right and this is a selective enforcement thing. Of course, it probably didn't help that being from the UK, he thought the whole thing was ridiculous and that the cops were just being jerks. He said so fairly vociferously.
posted by gt2 at 2:19 PM on June 16, 2006


I believe the bag law is a 4th amendment protection, that's why Guiliani's henchmen never got their tickets to stick. It's and illegal search to look in the bag if they don't have probably cause that a law is being broken. You taking a sip out of a paper bag is not enough cause for a police officer to assume you are drinking alcohol. I remember during Giuliani's reign creative young ghetto kids would drink their soda out of paper bags just to fuck with the cops.
posted by any major dude at 4:06 PM on June 16, 2006


In Baltimore on the MARC train going from Union Station (I believe), you can drink on the train. And many people do.

(Saw it on the news a few weeks ago. These people also tend to buy their booze at some liquor store that is *in* Union Station.)

Personally, I've never been bothered if I have it in an unmarked cup of some variety.
posted by sperose at 4:12 PM on June 16, 2006


In Oregon it's illegal, and people do get in trouble for the brown paper bags. So they tend to get cups from McDonalds/Subway/whatever, pour it in, and sip from a straw.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:13 PM on June 16, 2006


An interesting exemption: On Metro North, LIRR, and NJ Transit trains, you are generally allowed to drink and indeed to become inebriated. They even sell beer and liquor on the train platform. You cannot drink in the station, however.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:08 PM on June 16, 2006


And boy, is afternoon rush hour on the LIRR revolting.
posted by obliquicity at 6:38 PM on June 16, 2006


Well, it was about 15 years ago, and I was living in Ocean City Md. I got arrested one TWO occasions for simply having an "Open Container in Public" Basically, I had a can or bottle of beer. If I would have had the stuff in a cup, or something like that, I would have been fine.

The first time, I spent about 6 hours in a cell, the second time I was in there for about 48 hours! That totally sucked!
posted by punkrockrat at 6:57 PM on June 16, 2006


...the Puerto Rican drunkards who sexually harass women every year on the occasion of their territorial parade get clapped into irons post-haste, on nearly any pretext.

What about the fratboys on st. Patrick's day who grope girls just as much? I'm sure they get bothered by the cops too, right? Bullshit.

Don't bring ethnicity into this and try to make it seem as if "they deserve it."
posted by piratebowling at 8:13 PM on June 16, 2006


What about the fratboys on st. Patrick's day who grope girls just as much? I'm sure they get bothered by the cops too, right? Bullshit.

Don't bring ethnicity into this and try to make it seem as if "they deserve it."


Good point. I distinctly remember back in the early days of the Giuliani regime, a lot of Black and Latino people complained that cops were busting men who were doing nothing but drinking beer on the stoop playing dominoes, not harming anybody where white Yuppies sipping wine at Shakespeare in the park never got busted. There was a crackdown on those chardonnay hooligans for one summer, then the cops started going back to not enforcing the open container law unless you were young, not white or in many cases an obnoxious white fratboy (I've seen that). Just don't get too rowdy during the "band of brothers" speech at Shakespeare in the park and you can sip your wine in peace.
posted by xetere at 3:56 AM on June 17, 2006


IIAL, but this comes from personal experience, not professional expertise. In New York, if you get caught with an open container on the city streets, you now have the option of plea by mail, where you just send in a $25 dollar fine like a parking ticket -- no need to show up in court. However, if you get caught in the park, you get cited under park regulations rather than city regulations and you have to go to court.

When I went to court for my drinking-in-the-park ticket, the judge dismissed in the interests of justice. She noted that our only mistake was drinking in Morningside Park rather than in Central Park, where even federal judges drink wine and listen to the symphony with impunity.

And the officer who ticketed us said the paper bag doesn't do the trick -- he suggested that next time we put it into Big Gulp cups.
posted by footnote at 11:20 AM on June 17, 2006


In New Orleans, in case you care, you can have alcohol on the street but it needs to be in plastic not glass. If you're drinking beer out of a bottle at a bar and you want to leave, you ask for a "go-cup" to pour into.
posted by radioamy at 2:36 PM on June 17, 2006


Don't bring ethnicity into this and try to make it seem as if "they deserve it."

I am in favor of non-selective enforcement of the law, in case that wasn't clear. Enforcing it for poor ethnic minorities but not for rich guys makes for injustice.

I'm not particularly in favor of the absuive kind of behavior that has gone on during the Puerto Rican Day parade, but that's because of the behavior, not because of who's doing it. It seems to be getting better over the years, for whatever reason.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:16 AM on June 18, 2006


An interesting exemption: On Metro North, LIRR, and NJ Transit trains, you are generally allowed to drink and indeed to become inebriated. They even sell beer and liquor on the train platform. You cannot drink in the station, however.

I was wondering why I kept seeing people with open containers on the train and the ticket takers did nothing about it. Thanks for that interesting tidbit.
posted by D Wiz at 12:26 PM on June 18, 2006


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