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What You Should Know About Drinking in Public In New York

By Nicole Levy | May 23, 2016 6:36pm | Updated on August 25, 2016 12:19pm
 Sorry, it's not legal to drink on the street in New York.
Sorry, it's not legal to drink on the street in New York.
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Shutterstock/Stefano Carnevali

Whenever the days grow longer and warmer in New York, the allure of a frosty beer inevitably grows stronger.

Still, you will have to dam your ears against the siren song of brews, spirits or wine until you're safely at home, at happy hour or at dinner. On Wednesday, the City Council will vote on legislation that calls for the reduction of penalties for violations such as drinking in public or urinating outdoors, but the essentials of New York's open-container laws will remain the same.

We have some answers to your scofflaw questions below:

Is it still illegal to drink outdoors?

Yes. According to the New York City Administrative Code, you can only drink outdoors if you're at a permitted block party or a bar or restaurant with outdoor seating. Leave the red Solo cups at home if you're picnicking in Central Park or spending a beach day at Coney Island.

Will an officer arrest me if I'm caught drinking in public?

If you're in Manhattan and there aren't any warrants out for your arrest, no. The city announced in March that NYPD officers would no longer arrest citizens for committing minor infractions in Manhattan, such as drinking alcohol in public.

The change in policy was intended to reduce a backlog of cases in Manhattan's criminal courts — last year, the city issued 104,859 criminal summonses for the consumption of alcohol in public — as well as temper the impact of "broken windows" policing, which treats low-level offenses as the harbingers of major crime and disproportionately affects communities of color.

Officers in Manhattan would instead issue civil summons, sparing those offenders a blemish on their record.

You could still get a criminal summons in the four other boroughs, but many officers are already in the practice of issuing a civil summons if the offender has no warrants.

What are the consequences of receiving a summons?

If you're issued a summons and you choose to plead guilty, you owe a $25 fine, which you can pay by mail.

If you choose to show up at summons court to contest the charge, it may be dismissed because a judge thinks it is unsubstantiated or nonsense.

Whatever you do, don't misplace your ticket — if you've planned to fight the charge and you miss your court date, the court will issue a warrant. That puts you at risk of being handcuffed, fingerprinted and taken to jail, and it could hurt your chances of finding new employment in the future.

Is it legal to drink on my stoop?

The answer to this question hinges on one's definition of "private property."

The city's administrative code prohibits open alcohol containers in any public place, which "shall not include those premises ... within [citizens'] own private property." Broadly written, the law leaves much to the interpretation of individual officers, who have — according to one account — issued summonses to New Yorkers drinking behind gates,in open doorways, on roofs and in apartment building hallways.

Tapped by the New York Times for his professional opinion, Legal Aid Society chief lawyer Stephen Banks said he considers stoops private property. In a 2013 mayoral debate, Mayor Bill de Blasio answered in the affirmative when asked,"Should you be free to drink a beer on your own stoop?"