Example Laws: Drinking in Public / Public Consumption

Since the ordinances (local laws) of every Florida municipality will differ, the general prohibition against drinking or consuming alcohol in a public place is best illustrated through some example ordinances.

Jacksonville Beach, Florida

Chapter 4, Section 3, of the Jacksonville Beach ordinance code provides as follows:

It shall be unlawful for any person to consume or drink any beer, wine, liquor, or other alcoholic beverage on any public street, sidewalks, boardwalk, or other public place not duly licensed to permit consumption of beverages on the premises.

To assist law enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office in prosecuting their citizens, the ordinance further provides that “Possession of an open container containing an alcoholic beverage by any person in the areas prohibited by this section shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this section.” Thus, in a subsequent criminal prosecution, a citizen’s mere possession of an alcoholic beverage will create a permissive inference that an unlawful consumption took place. This means that an accused can be convicted of the offense even without specific proof that a sip was taken. Although the defense may rebut the inference with contrary evidence, the fact-finder (judge or jury) is free to convict the accused on the basis of an inference alone.

In the end, a single sip of alcohol consumed on a street or sidewalk in Jacksonville Beach can subject an unwary citizen to a permanent criminal record, even if the accused’s conduct did not involve any type of public disturbance or public endangerment.

The penalties for violating the Jacksonville Beach ordinance can be severe. A first time offender can be sentenced to a maximum of 90 days in jail, or a $500 fine (or both), although a typical offense will result in a simple fine. The chief consequence of paying the fine, however, is the creation of a criminal record. A violation of Chapter 4, Section 3 is a misdemeanor offense.

Jacksonville, Florida

Chapter 154, Section 107, of the Jacksonville ordinance code declares it unlawful “for any person to sell, serve or consume any alcoholic beverage upon public streets or sidewalks, at any City park or playground, at or in any City building or on any property owned, leased or occupied by the City.” Property leased by the City means property not owned by the City but subject to a lease agreement granting the City the right to possess or occupy the property. Property occupied by the City means property neither owned nor leased by the City but in or upon which the City has an apparent right of occupancy.

Under the code, the City of Jacksonville has no duty to provide notice or otherwise post warnings or signs at any park, playground, building, sidewalk, street, or other structure or property to validate or enable the enforcement of the prohibitions on public consumption of alcohol. Thus, ordinary citizens, who have no idea they are engaged in criminal conduct, are deemed to know the law and have a continuing duty to determine the status and ownership of property where alcohol is consumed.

Violation of Jacksonville’s prohibition on public consumption is a “Class B” offense, which carries penalties of up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine. If these penalties were not enough, Chapter 632, Section 109, provides that, upon the finding of a violation, “adjudication shall not be withheld.” This means that the City of Jacksonville has mandated a conviction and a permanent criminal record for any person determined to have consumed alcohol in an unauthorized public place.

Defenses to Drinking in Public / Public Consumption

There are many defenses available to contest a charge of “Drinking in Public” or “Public Consumption” of alcohol. Often, it is possible to challenge the legality of the search or seizure that led to the discovery of the alcoholic beverage in the first place. This defense would apply in a situation where the beverage is held within an unmarked container (such as a mug, styrofoam cup, or other opaque container), or where the beverage is concealed from view or is within a wrapping, such as a “Koozie.” In such a case, the officer may lack reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain the accused in order to determine whether the beverage is in fact alcohol.

In other cases, it is possible to contest the issue of consumption, even where a permissive inference is created by mere possession. A defense may also arise if it is shown that the incident did not occur in a “public place” (as defined by the ordinance), or that consumption was allowed for a special event, by permit, or at a special location.

Even where there are no viable defenses to the charge, it is often possible to negotiate an amendment to civil infraction or to qualify the accused for Pretrial Intervention or other diversionary programs.

Contact Our Attorneys

If you have been arrested or issued a Notice to Appear for drinking in public in Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, or elsewhere in Northeast Florida, contact the attorneys at Hussein & Webber, PL to discuss your legal options. In many cases, it is possible to have these charges reduced or dismissed so as to avoid criminal penalties and the establishment of a permanent criminal record.