The City Attorney’s Office has revised Sarasota’s open-container ordinance to close a loophole that made the law vulnerable to legal challenges.
The City Commission will consider the revised ordinance at its Nov. 5 meeting.
The ordinance was reworked to strengthen the city’s law prohibiting drinking in public spaces and prevent challenges that the law is unconstitutional.
The problem lies in the description of an alcoholic “open container.” An empty alcoholic container is currently included within the definition of an open container, so someone collecting empty beer cans could be found in violation.
The ordinance was challenged by a public defender during a July case. The judge never made a ruling on the challenge because the defendant pleaded guilty to the charges.
The defense attorney had filed a brief, claiming the city ordinance was “unconstitutional on its face,” and requested that a judge dismiss the open-container charges against his client.
City Attorney Bob Fournier said he began to redraft the ordinance after reading the public defender’s motion.
“They have a fair point. There is a better than 50-50 chance a judge, when he reads this, would say it (the ordinance) is too broad,” said Fournier.
The new ordinance deletes “empty container” from the definition of an open container. The revised ordinance also states that police must prove intent to consume alcohol.
Fournier said he felt the city should “be proactive and save the time and money that would be needed to defend the ordinance” in court.