The Nanny State Invades The Front Stoopby Doug Mataconis
The latest battle in the war against the nanny state is being fought by a guy in Brooklyn, New York who just wants to drink a beer on his front stoop on a hot summer night:
Kimber VanRy was sitting on his stoop in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn, drinking a beer and sending e-mail messages on his BlackBerry, when a police car slowed to a stop on the street in front of him.
It had been a pleasant evening for Mr. VanRy, 39, who lives in a four-story, 20-unit co-op building with his wife and two children. He had watched Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s speech at the Democratic convention on television, helped put his sons to bed and washed the dishes.
The time was 11:52 p.m., the date was Aug. 27, and the beer, for the record, was a 12-ounce bottle of Sierra Nevada.
The police officer in the driver’s seat said something to Mr. VanRy. He left the stoop, walked to the car and, several minutes later, was handed a small pink slip — a $25 summons for drinking in public.
And, as is usually the case in situations like this, the law under which VanRy was charged is sufficiently vague to allow police officers to use wide discretion in deciding whether to apply it:
The city’s open-container law prohibits anyone from drinking an alcoholic beverage, or possessing and intending to drink from an open container containing an alcoholic beverage, “in any public place.” The law defines a public place as one “to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access, including, but not limited to,” a sidewalk, street or park.
Steve Wasserman, a lawyer with the criminal practice of the Legal Aid Society, questioned the wording of the law, adding that legal arguments could be made that a stoop is not a place that a “substantial group of persons” can gain access to.
“This is an open question,” he said of the law. “There’s also a larger constitutional question, if a piece of your private property were being treated as if it were a public place. You couldn’t get arrested for drinking that beer in your kitchen. Now you’re sitting on your stoop. The stoop may be more like your kitchen than your sidewalk.”
Now, admittedly, Mr. VanRy’s predicament isn’t the most important issue in the world, but if you can’t sit on your front stoop and have a drink at night, then what can you do ?