Although it remains a violation of law in the city limits of Gainesville to either possess an alcoholic beverage in an open container or to publicly consume an alcoholic beverage, a change in the law earlier this year may affect the manner in which this ordinance is enforced.
Earlier this year the Gainesville City Commission amended the municipal ordinance which addresses public consumption of alcohol and possession of open containers by allowing enforcement of this law to be handled as a civil citation as opposed to a criminal citation or physical arrest. As it currently stands, a law enforcement officer in Gainesville has the discretion to either issue a civil citation, a criminal citation/notice to appear, or make a physical arrest and charge an individual with a misdemeanor. In the event the officer charges someone with a civil citation the penalty would be $200.00. Alternatively, if the law enforcement officer issues a criminal citation or arrests an individual charging them with a misdemeanor, the punishment can include up to 60 days in jail and a $500.00 fine. The municipal ordinance does not contain any directive for specific conditions which would dictate handling the matter either civilly or criminally. Some first time offenders who are charged criminally, may be eligible to enter into a diversion program or a deferred prosecution agreement which can result in the dismissal of a criminal open container case. See Understanding the Deferred Prosecution Alternative in Florida Criminal Misdemeanor Cases.
It is still a violation of law within the city limits of Gainesville to possess an alcoholic beverage in any bottle, can, glass, or cup, other than an original unbroken sealed container in any of the following places:
- •publicly owned park or recreation area
- •any school property
- •downtown plaza
- •public streets
- •sidewalks (except specifically licensed sidewalk cafes)
- •public or semi public parking facilities
- •Florida Field (except in the executive suite boxes)
Although most people recognize the level of enforcement varies depending on the particular location, the fact remains, almost every location other than privately owned property is off limits to the consumption of alcohol.
Most locals, as well as hard core Gator fans recognize that the level of enforcement of the open container ordinance is relatively non-existent in the Bull Gator parking lot just outside the O’Connell Center and Stadium. Alternatively, just across the street north of University Avenue the level of enforcement is vigorous and many individuals encountered by law enforcement are not only charged with violating the ordinance but have also been taken to jail booked on criminal charges. Whether this disparity continues or the police start to raise money by issuing $200 civil citations to those fortunate enough to secure a parking space in the closest lot to the football stadium, we’ll have to wait … kickoff is only a week away.