The police in New York City wrote 124,498 summonses last year for drinking in public — far more than for any other violation. After having to adjudicate so many of these public drinking cases, a Brooklyn judge has decided he has had enough.
The sniff test, judge, Noach Dear wrote, was not enough.
Judge Dear made his intentions known in a written decision released on Thursday in a run-of-the-mill Criminal Court case: Julio Figueroa, 38, was cited for illegally drinking a cup of beer on a city sidewalk near his home in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn.
It was not sufficient, the judge wrote, that a police officer had smelled the contents of Mr. Figueroa’s cup and detected beer. Nor was it enough that Mr. Figueroa had told the police officer that, yes, the liquid was indeed beer.
In dismissing Mr. Figueroa’s case, Judge Dear wrote that the police should be required to adhere to a higher standard of certainty that the drink’s alcohol content exceeded 0.5 percent, the threshold under the city’s open-container law, before issuing a court summons. One way to do that, he suggested, would be for the New York Police Department to have a laboratory test conducted.
Judge Dear made it clear that he hoped his interpretation of the city’s public drinking law would persuade the Police Department to reconsider its enforcement of the ordinance. In his experience, he wrote, the department singled out blacks and Hispanics when issuing public drinking summonses.
“As hard as I try, I cannot recall ever arraigning a white defendant for such a violation,” wrote Judge Dear, a former city councilman who has handled mostly civil cases since his election to a judgeship in 2007.