Here we go again. Back in 2008, Kimber VanRy received a summons from the police for drinking on the steps of his Prospect Heights apartment building. Although VanRy (who was president of his building’s co-op) had not realized it, he had unwittingly run afoul of a city law that bars drinking “in any public place.” That’s where things get murky. The law defines it as an area “to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access, including, but not limited to,” a sidewalk, street or park.” The recipient of the summons was told at the time that if the buildings steps had been set off by a gate he would have been in the clear.
That very issue is now being used as a defense by a group of five Brooklynites who received summonses on July 4th for drinking on the stoop of a friend’s Boerum Hill townhouse. In this case, as reported by The New York Times, there was a gate. “We were all kind of stunned for a second,” said Andrew Rausa, a student at Brooklyn Law School and one of the five threats to public safety. “It happened over the gate. It was a very tangible physical divide — when they said the words ‘public property,’ it just didn’t make any sense.” The officer’s response? “I don’t care what the law says, you’re getting a summons.” When they realized that the summonses would remain on their records, the five friends (one of whom wasn’t even drinking) have decided to contest the $25 fines. One person isn’t optimistic about their chances. “There’s so much interpretation left up to the individual officer,” said Mr. VanRy. “I tell people, honestly, I think you’re going to lose because it’s written so broadly.”