Public Drinking Decriminalized

A Florida state mandate now requires counties and cities, instead of the state, to pay for prosecuting such offences as drinking in public. It costs more to prosecute public drinking cases than the counties get back in fines and if a county can’t obtain a conviction, it loses even more money because it receives no fine at all.

Baker county has become the first in Florida to decriminalize drinking in public. Assumed violators won’t have to go to court but simply pay a fine, similar to a traffic ticket.

Drinking in public doesn’t appear to be a particularly heinous crime. In fact, it can be a positive benefit to a community or neighborhood. For example, café culture has spread from Europe to countries around the world. With its emphasis on eating and socializing, it appeals to a broad segment of people. Café culture contributes to a diverse and vital downtown area that attracts visitors and enhances the economy.

Realizing the desirability of encouraging a café culture, the city of Chapel Hill in North Carolina passed an ordinance permitting the sale of alcoholic beverages to diners sitting at sidewalk tables. Some restaurants reported a 90 percent increase in people dining outdoors the weekend after the ordinance was implemented.

Less than a year after the ordinance, Chapel Hill had a thriving café culture that’s attracting people downtown and contributing to its economic health and vitality. An additional advantage of outdoor dining and drinking is that more “eyes on the street “ contribute to a safer environment.

All of this success comes at no cost to the taxpayers. But it doesn’t generate any fines for drinking in public.


  • Rinker, Michael. Public drinking is decriminalized; prosecuting said not cost effective. Baker County Press, April 21, 2006.

Filed Under: Legal Issues