When Those ‘Unenforced’ Laws Are Suddenly Enforced

After 39-year-old New Yorker Kimber VanRy put his sons to bed and finished the evening’s chores, he retired to the front stoop of his Brooklyn brownstone to drink a bottle of beer and send messages on his BlackBerry, according to a recent New York Times article.

Not too long after he sat down, a cop car rolled up and rolled down its passenger-side window. VanRy left his stoop, walked to the car, and was issued a $25 summons for drinking in public.

VanRy, who’s the president of his building’s co-op, was stunned. He said he had no clue that it was illegal to drink on your front stoop. No one he knows has ever been ticketed for such an offense.

New York City’s open-container law prohibits people from drinking alcohol in public places (or possessing alcohol with the intent of drinking it publicly). The law defines a public place as a place where the “public or a substantial group of persons have access, including, but not limited to,” a sidewalk, street or park, according to the article.

The punishment for violating the law is no more than $25 in fines and/or up to 5 days imprisonment.

Brooklyn residents were shocked to find out that drinking on your own front porch was actually illegal. As in most cities, if you walk down the Brooklyn streets on a nice day, you’ll see many people sitting on their front steps with a beer or glass of wine in hand, talking amongst their neighbors.

“It’s one of those laws that a lot of people know it’s there, but how heavily it should be enforced is the question,” Mr. VanRy told the reporter.

“The officer observed a violation. The subject has a right to dispute it,” said Paul Brown, the city’s Police Department spokesperson, in a statement about the summons.

VanRy told the newspaper that he would contest the summons and plead not guilty.

He is ready to question the idea that a person’s private property (like his front stoop) can be legally considered a “public place.” He also pointed out to the paper that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was photographed by The New York Post sipping wine at a city park.

There have been no reports of the mayor receiving any citation for that violation.

Whether Enforced or Not, the Law’s Pretty Cut-And-Dry

The open-container drinking law is just one of those laws that exist in the books but is rarely enforced-but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to face the consequences if you break it.

Whether you’re fighting a small ticket or you’re fighting criminal charges, it’s not an adequate defense to tell the court the charges should be dropped because the law is rarely enforced.

Additionally, pleading ignorance to the law is typically not well received by the court.

If you are facing criminal charges or trying to contest tickets, a criminal defense attorney would probably tell you that it’s a poor decision to tell the judge you believe you should be let off because you didn’t know the law or didn’t think you would be caught because it was rarely enforced.

However, you certainly have every right to defend yourself against any criminal charges or summons.

If you choose to argue your case, it may be a wise decision to contact a local criminal defense lawyer to discuss your particular options.

Criminal defense attorneys know the law and they know the best arguments to get your charges dropped.

Remember, you’re expected-and required-to know your city’s laws. You will be responsible to pay the consequences if the court finds that you have violated those laws.

If you are facing any type of criminal charges, don’t hesitate to speak to a criminal defense attorney. Contact a local criminal defense lawyer by filing out Total Criminal Defense’s free online evaluation form or by calling 877-445-1059.