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.

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP.

Ryan Marshall is the transportation and growth and development reporter for the News-Post. He can be reached at rmarshall@newspost.com.

(18) comments

Citicat

You can tell we are a dem city now. Soft on crime

public-redux

Could you kindly explain why you believe the quiet and peaceful consumption of a beer in Baker Park ought to be a crime?

bosco

I doubt if anyone can, public. How about drinking in one of the cities "parklets" on Market Street? Can anyone explain why grocery stores are not allowed to sell alcohol, but a mom-and-pop market down in Jefferson can?

[ninja]

public-redux

I don’t know the history here but in some parts of the US bans on alcohol consumption in public spaces was driven by anti-immigrant bigotry, especially German immigrants.

Germans came here and refused to adapt to American customs and values. Instead they insisted on maintaining their foreign ways, one of which was spending Sundays in a park having picnics, listening to their foreign music, and drinking beer.

MD1756

There are plenty of reasons to ban public consumption of alcohol and anti-immigrant status is currently not one of them. Violation of the law should be civil not criminal. Violation of other laws as a result of drinking in public are a different matter (disorderly behavior, urination in public spaces, etc.).

Greg F

Exactly B...most other states allow grocery stores to sell beer and wine...like Wegmans in Leesburg for instance. Frederick Wegmans can’t hold a candle to them as (prepandemicland) you could even sit at their mini bar that served beer and wine with decent food items.

public-redux

MD, I’m sure you would agree that drinking in public need not result in disorderly conduct or public urination and also that disorderly conduct or public urination need not have been preceded by drinking in public.

MD1756

public-redux, I agree, that's why I agree that drinking in public should not be a criminal offense, only a civil offense, but that it may lead to other unwanted behavior, some of which should be criminal other whether or not a violation of any law would still be undesirable. I worked for the town of Vestal, NY parks department for 5 summers and generally there was a bugger mess to clean up when alcohol was involved. Any revenue from the fines collected should go towards programs that help keep the city (and in particular the parks) clean.

public-redux

MD, So what do you think are one or two good reasons to ban public consumption of alcohol?

MD1756

Public, I'd probably make it one of those secondary offenses just like they have for driving where for some offenses the police can't pull you over unless you're doing something else wrong I wouldn't ticket anyone unless doing something else wrong.

public-redux

MD, what are a couple of the good reasons you mentioned? For having it be any kind of offense.

MD1756

Public-redux, since you persist, the benefits should be obvious but I'll state the main one here. It reduces the risk of other adverse behaviors. With your line of thinking it would appear that you should be against any restrictions on anyone buying any weapon, or carrying any weapons in public or riding bikes on the sidewalks, or jaywalking, etc.

Do your drinking at home and there are fewer issues. If you drink at home, there is no need for you to drive back home after consuming alcohol because you're already home. If you drink at home you're less likely to create a public disturbance or be guilty of public intoxication. If you drink at home you'll be less likely to urinate in public places.

Some laws are aimed at prevention and banning public drinking is one of them, plain and simple.

public-redux

MD, I persisted in asking because you persisted in evading the question. And now that I see your response, I understand your reluctance to write it. The possible adverse effects you mention are hardly unique to consuming alcohol in public. Perhaps you’ve heard of bars and restaurants. With your line of thinking, people should not be allowed to consume alcohol anywhere but at home. Furthermore, you haven’t suggested any reasons to to think that drinking alcohol in a park is any more likely to result in adverse effects than consuming it in a bar or restaurant. “Drinking at home” is not the only alternative to public consumption.

When I break the rules and consume alcohol in public places, none of the adverse effects you mention are a risk. I might enjoy a glass of wine as I walk my dog in the park. I might enjoy a number of drinks while I sit around a campfire in a PA state park.

If you are concerned about public disturbances or urination, how about you focus on those?

MD1756

I stand by my position as being rational. The question wasn't whether or not we should have different regulations for bars but what should we do with current regulations regarding public consumption of alcohol. Not everyone who drinks in public imposes an unnecessary burden on the public, but enough do in my opinion that it should be discouraged and one way to do that is with a potential fine (but not jail time for public drinking alone). You always have the option to move to a state/city where public consumption is allowed or you can take your chances and ignore the law and hope it goes well for you.

public-redux

And what is your whist is your evidence that people who consume alcohol in public impose an unnecessary burden on the public?

Dwasserba

I learned about this law in 1981. We had just moved here to a house with a front porch the previous year. I served wine coolers in wine glasses to two neighbors. Whoops.

bosco

OMG, such criminal behavior cannot be tolerated. [lol][lol][lol][lol]

[ninja]

Greg F

Wow...off to the hoosegow with you then...some time in the pillory perhaps?! When the pandemic is over it’s time for a kegger on the front porch!

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