NYC
06/15/2012 11:35 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2012

Public Drinking: Brooklyn Judge Noach Dear Rules Sniff Test Isn't Sufficient For NYPD To Issue Summonses (POLL)

Fed up with hearing public drinking cases in court-- and seeing predominantly black and Latino defendants-- a Brooklyn judge ruled Thursday that a sniff test isn't sufficient proof for cops to issue a public drinking summons, The New York Times reports.

“While the arresting officer’s professional training and sense of smell may be sufficient to support his conclusion that defendant was drinking beer, such does not support the conclusion that the beer contained more than one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume," Judge Noach Dear wrote in a decision for a case involving a Latino man, Julio Figueroa, even though Figueroa had admitted to cops that the contents of his cup was beer.

By Dear's standard, cops would basically have to prove the alcoholic content via a lab test, obviously a time-consuming task that might prevent cops from issuing public drinking summonses at all. The standard would make it more likely that cops would just write a $25 ticket.

Of course, Dear's decision likely won't change the way NYPD gives out summonses. Cops like summonses because it gives them the opportunity to check the person for outstanding warrants-- precisely the kind of "broken windows theory" policing that has ruled the force since the 90s, and possibly increased NYPD stop-and-frisks six-fold in the last decade.

Dear, however, likely wasn't expecting his decision to automatically change enforcement. It seems he just wanted to make a statement.

“As hard as I try, I cannot recall ever arraigning a white defendant for such a violation,” Dear said of public drinking arrests, according to The Times. Dear-- a former city councilman with possible political ambitions-- also had his staff review a month's worth of public drinking violations. They found that 4 percent of summonses were issued to whites, while the bulk 85 percent of summonses were issued to blacks and Latinos.

(Similarly, 87 percent of those stopped and interrogated by the NYPD in 2011 were black or Latino.)

What do you think, New York?

Dear's decision comes as New York City continues to grapple with legislating its vices.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed legislation that would ban large sodas, while Governor Cuomo-- after lobbying from city Democrats-- proposed legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. (A different Brooklyn judge recently wrote a New York Times editorial calling for the legalization of medical marijuana.) Another Cuomo plan could mean a casino in Manhattan's future.

Cigarette smokers, of course, are now ticketed for smoking in public parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas. Additionally, Bloomberg wants to make it harder for them to smoke in their own apartment.

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