Judge Scolds NYPD on Public Drinking Citations

Brooklyn Judge Noach Dear is tired of seeing defendants brought before him on charges of drinking in public. So tired that he said he will no longer allow officers to identify alcohol by mere sight or “sniff test.” In what the NY Times calls a “highly impractical standard,” Judge Dear wants cops to prove the beverage they are citing someone for was alcohol.

How can cops prove something is alcohol? By sending it to a lab for testing, and it is highly unlikely that officers will be able to justify lab costs for what amounts to a $25 ticket.

New York cops wrote 124,498 summonses last year for drinking in public, more that any other violation. Judge Dear’s staff analyzed the summonses issued in Brooklyn and found that 85% of them were issued to Blacks and Latinos, with only 4% being issued to whites, this despite the fact that 36% of the population of Brooklyn is white.

“As hard as I try, I cannot recall ever arraigning a white defendant for such a violation,” said Dear.

While Dear’s decision to hold cops to a higher standard in his own courtroom won’t likely change the practices of the entire department, he has called on the NYPD to evaluate their enforcement of open container laws and be “immediately stopped if found to be discriminatory.”

The NY Times report documents the case of one Brooklyn resident who was actually arrested for drinking beer out of a plastic cup out in front of his home. The cops pulled up, asked what he was drinking, and ran his name for warrants.

Thirty-eight year old Julio Figueroa said he admitted he was drinking beer, “I wasn’t going to lie.”

The police said he had an outstanding warrant and arrested him. He was taken to jail and wasn’t released for 22 hours, at which time he was told there was a “mix-up” and that he didn’t actually have a warrant. That’s when he went before Judge Dear, who dismissed the public drinking charge and wrote his opinion casting shame on the NYPD’s enforcement of the law.

Drinking in public doesn’t seem like a serious offense. But, if officers are using it (allegedly against minorities in disproportionate numbers) as an excuse to stop someone and run their name for active warrants, it becomes much more serious.

Maybe you were stopped on suspicion of drinking in public and the cops used it as an excuse to search you, finding drugs. Or perhaps you have an active warrant yourself. Whatever the case, we may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case and the options that might be available to you.

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