It’s finally warm outside, and those summer nights are here. The sun won’t go down until 8:29pm this lovely evening. You may be craving some time out in your weekend schedule for a bit of refreshment on a Sunday afternoon.
And that refreshment is beer. Or wine. Or micheladas (yum). Or another brilliant concoction of your choice.
So here’s a frequent question posed this time of year: Is it legal to drink on my stoop?
The simple answer is: it’s illegal.
But, the type of illegal changed just a few days ago.
The Criminal Justice Reform Act Bill — which passed last month — went into effect as law on Monday, June 13. According to the New York City Council, the goal is to “create more proportional penalties for certain low‑level, non‑violent offenses.” The package consists of eight bills, which include having an open container of alcohol in public, public urination, and littering.
While it is still considered illegal to drink in public (we’ll get to the debate over whether a stoop is private or public property in a bit), you will receive a civil court summons rather than a criminal court summons.
If you get that civil court summons, you will receive a $25 ticket that can be paid online. And you can make an appearance over the phone.
According to the New York City Council, a person will not receive a permanent criminal record if receiving a civil summons, and an arrest warrant will not be issued if a person does not appear in civil court.
“This is an incredible step forward. It’s one of the most comprehensive bills on this kind of reform that has been proposed, and I believe it’s going to be helpful to many thousands of people,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has championed the new law. “This is not a laughing matter. It’s a very substantive package of reform and bills that we are presenting here today, and I’m hoping that other cities will look at it.”
Because of this new legislation, 100,000 cases from 2015 will be heard at civil court as opposed to criminal court. According to the New York City Council, this will save “almost 10,000 people per year from having a permanent criminal record and avoiding over 50,000 warrants every year.”
Now, let’s get back to this issue of the stoop — is it public or private property? Well, like many things in life, that is debatable.
No matter how strongly you believe that a stoop is private, there is a long history of legal debate surrounded your treasured steps. The law defines a public place as one “to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access, including, but not limited to,” a sidewalk, street, or park.
According to the New York Times, Steve Wasserman, who is a lawyer with the criminal practice of the Legal Aid Society, “questioned the wording of the law, adding that legal arguments could be made that a stoop is not a place that a ‘substantial group of persons’ can gain access to.”
“This is an open question,” said Wasserman. ‘There’s also a larger constitutional question, if a piece of your private property were being treated as if it were a public place. You couldn’t get arrested for drinking that beer in your kitchen. Now you’re sitting on your stoop. The stoop may be more like your kitchen than your sidewalk.”
So can Bensonhurst Bean vouch for your stoop? Unfortunately, no. However, the new laws are not going to wreak havoc on your life should you be issued a summons.
Having said that, if a neighbor stops me from their stoop to offer me an ice-cold beer, well, it’d be pretty hard to say no.