More than 1400 officers, many with the Tampa Police Department patrolled the 2010 Gasparilla parade. At the end of the day, more than 400 arrests were made. Although the crowd was down by 50% over prior years the number of arrests were up 300% over prior years.
Open Container Outside the “Wet-Zone”
The majority of those “arrests” were people who were only detained long enough for the officer to issue a citation violating the Tampa City Ordinance against the possession of alcohol outside a designated area around the parade route. The designated area that was “wet-zoned” included Bayshore Boulevard from the water to the outside curb of the southbound lanes.
Individuals without a Local Address Were Arrested and Booked into the Jail
For those individuals who did not have a local address, they were actually arrested and booked into the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office detention center before being given the opportunity to post a cash bond of $250.
According to announcements made by the Tampa Police Department prior to the event, no one was allowed to bring their own alcohol to the parade. These rules against bringing alcohol to the parade were selectively enforced. Most people got into the parade with outside alcohol without any problem.
The Tampa Police Department also announced that all alcohol had to be purchased from vendors on the parade route. Once you bought alcohol from the vendor you were not allowed to carry it outside the wet-zoned area.
Contesting the Open Container Violation
Many people are asking whether they really need an attorney for this type of county ordinance. The answer depends on your particular circumstances. Many people want to fight the citation on principle because they disagree with the law and the way it was enforced in their particular case. Others want the prosecutor to drop the charge against them so that they do not have to admit to any violation or pay a fine.
Many people may decide to fight the city ordinance on constitutional grounds or by raising “as applied” challenges. For some people, they are “not guilty” because they were cited for possession even though they were on private property at the time and had permission from the resident to be on the property. Even if you do not think you have a great defense, talk with an attorney about how difficult it may be for the prosecutor to prove the case.
Selective Enforcement Ends Up Targeting Only Individuals Willing to Cooperate with Police
The Tampa police officers were taking samples of the alcohol from each person cited. I have heard a lot of stories about how the Tampa police would rush towards a crowd, and everyone who poured out the drink before the officer could stop them were not cited, while the few citizens who followed the officer’s instructions to freeze were rewarded with the citation or arrest. Other people were not cited at all because they did not have a local address and the police were not in the mood to actually arrest the person. The way the Tampa Police Department singled out particular individuals stinks to high heaven.
The City Ordinance Violation is Comparable to a Second Degree Misdemeanor under State Law
Keep in mind that there are important reasons to fight the citation. For most purposes a violation of the city ordinance is treated the same as a second degree misdemeanor under a state law. In fact, the city ordinance violation for open container is punishable by a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. Additionally, regardless of whether you are convicted of a state felony charge, or a misdemeanor, or a city ordinance, a conviction will prevent you from ever being able to seal or expunge a criminal record.
Other collateral or indirect consequences for a violation of Tampa’s open container city ordinance can occur, and these indirect consequences can last longer after the fine and court costs are paid.
If you are found guilty or enter a plea to the offense, the potential punishment is a fine of up to $500, 60 days in jail, and/or up to six months of probation. For individuals with no prior record, many of these cases are resolved through a diversion program offered by the State Attorney’s Office that allows you to voluntarily enter a program while you complete a myriad of conditions including paying money, completing community service hours, reporting to the Salvation Army on a monthly basis during the diversionary period which can last for 6 months.
If you successfully fight the allegations you may be able to avoid these serious direct and indirect consequences.
City of Tampa Code of Ordinances, Chapter 3, Alcoholic Beverages, Article IV, Section 3-40, prohibits possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages outside of licensed premises.
Sec. 3-40. – Consumption and possession of open containers on streets, sidewalks, alleys and other public property.
(a) It is unlawful for any person to consume, assist or aid another to consume any alcoholic beverage upon any street, sidewalk, alley or other public property within the city.
(b) It is unlawful for any person to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage upon any street, sidewalk, alley or other public property, including public or semi-public parking lots, within the city.
(1) As used in subsection (b), “open container” means any vessel or container containing an alcoholic beverage, including beer or wine, which is immediately capable of consumption or the seal of which has been broken.
(2) An open container shall be considered to be in the possession of the person if the container is in the physical control of such person.
(c) Subsections (a) and (b) do not apply when:
(1) The street, connecting sidewalk or alley has been officially temporarily closed upon application to the director of public works and the approval of the city council for the purpose of a block party as provided in this Code, or
(2) A portion of a sidewalk has been leased and permitted as a sidewalk cafe as provided for in Chapter 22 of this Code, or
(3) Public property has been zoned and permitted for the sale of alcoholic beverages pursuant to law, or
(4) A portion of the street, connecting sidewalk or alley has been marked and/or designated as a crossing for a public golf course.
(Ord. No. 99-229, § 1, 10-28-99; Ord. No. 2007-19, § 2, 2-1-07)
The penalty for a violation of the open container city ordinance in Tampa is provided in the penalty Section 1-6(a).
Sec. 1-6. – General penalty.
(a) Code violations—Fine and/or imprisonment and/or probation. It is unlawful for any person to violate or fail to comply with any provision of this Code and, where no specific penalty is provided therefor, the violation of any provision of this Code shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500.00) and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding sixty (60) days and/or a term of probation not to exceed six (6) months, as set forth in section 1-6.1 or by both such fine and imprisonment. Each day any violation of any provision of this Code shall continue shall constitute a separate offense.
Click here to read the details of Tampa City Ordinances.
Click here to read more about criminal charges for young people arrested for possession of alcohol who are under the age of 21.
If you were arrested at Gasparilla or received a notice to appear, contact an experienced attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss the best way to resolve the case.