People caught carrying open containers of alcohol in the city of Frederick would receive a municipal citation rather than a criminal one, without a threat of jail time, under a change being considered by the aldermen.
Public possession or consumption of alcohol in the city is currently a misdemeanor crime, with a penalty of a fine of up to $100 and/or up to 90 days in jail.
But under the proposed change to bring Frederick’s ordinance in line with state law, violators will receive only a fine.
The Maryland General Assembly amended the law in 2019 to make public possession or consumption a civil rather than criminal offense.
Disorderly conduct or other crimes involving public drunkenness are still criminal violations.
Officers in the city have always had discretion in how to handle public drinking cases, said Lt. Kirk Henneberry of the Frederick Police Department.
They could issue a citation if someone was disturbing the peace or being disruptive, he said. But if officers found someone drinking alcohol during a picnic in Baker Park or elsewhere, but not being disruptive, officers could educate them about the law without a citation.
Officers did make arrests for violations in the past, but they haven’t done that in years after the department decided that wasn’t an effective use of officers’ time, he said.
Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith, whose office recommended the change, said it’s mostly a housekeeping measure to bring city law into conformity with state law.
Debate in the General Assembly included discussion that the existing system unnecessarily gave violators a criminal record for a minor offense.
But Smith said most violators just pay a fine and go on their way, and are rarely prosecuted.
“People are not going to jail over open containers or drinking in public,” Smith said.
The aldermen are expected to bring the item up for a public hearing and vote at their Nov. 19 meeting.