Know Your Rights to Party
Summer in the city is so much fun, it should be a crime! Here are some tips on how to enjoy it without breaking any laws.
May 10, 2013
With Memorial Day just around the corner, be sure your plans for New York summer debauchery take into account the following regulated activities.
The drinking age in New York is 21, but children under 21 are allowed to possess and consume alcohol provided by their parents, or—get this—if they’re part of a curriculum that requires students to imbibe alcohol “for instructional purposes during class!” (“But officer, I’m part of the Harvey Milk High School Vodka-Tasting Class that meets here at The Cock!”)
For using a false ID to procure alcohol, first-time offenders receive a maximum penalty of $100, 30 hours of community service and completion of an alcohol awareness program. Procuring alcohol for someone under 21 can earn a maximum penalty of $200 plus five days’ imprisonment.
New York has no public intoxication law for alcohol, but drinking in public—even just carrying an open container in public—is a $25 ticket and/or five days’ imprisonment. Street fairs and other licensed events don’t count, but bringing a cooler to the park or beach may not fly with officials.
Raucous behavior, drunk or not, can result in Disorderly Conduct charges (a violation, fines up to $250). In the MTA, impairment by alcohol (or drugs) can be ticketed ($50), as can drinking alcohol ($50) and having an open container ($25). “Breach of Peace” in the subway is a $50 fine.
The “golden rule” is: Just don’t do it. Emptying your beer-filled bladder in a dark alley may seem harmless, but the potential headaches that can result if you’re caught may make you think twice.
A summons for public urination can be written one of two ways: as an offense under the administrative code (§ 16-118(6)) or the health code (§ 153.09). The former is only a “violation” (littering), which means it’s not a crime. This isn’t generally a big deal and first-offenders can incur a fine of $50–$250. But the latter is a misdemeanor (disposal of offensive matter), which means it’s a criminal act punishable by $500 and a year in prison. Imprisonment isn’t likely, but for a summons or Desk Appearance Ticket written up as a § 153.09 violation, you’ll have a criminal record, which will haunt you every time potential employers, landlords, co-op boards, etc. do a background check. Cops can choose which way they write public urination tickets. Meanwhile, in the MTA, urinating/defecating is a $50 offense.
In 2012, Elmhurst and Williamsburg topped the list for most public urination citations written. The West Village and Lower East Side vied for the dubious distinction in Manhattan.
Generally speaking, exposing intimate body parts in public is a violation. For example, if you’re sunbathing in Central Park with your dick dangling out of your boxers (intentionally or not), or prancing around town in those trashy mesh shorts that don’t hide anything, police can slap you with “Exposure of a Person”—typically a fine of up to $250 though five days’ jail time is also possible.
As for nudity on the beach, the National Park Service announced it would start enforcing its ban on nude sunbathing at all of its beaches. This includes Fire Island, but not The Pines or Cherry Grove. Violation is a class-B misdemeanor (up to $5,000 and six months in prison). Enforcement may vary from beach to beach, so before stripping down, take a look around for other nude bodies.
The age of consent in New York is 17. Overt and intentional sexual behavior in public—like a late-night blowjob on the B train or attempting rear entry in a darkened doorway with the hottie you picked up at Metropolitan—can result in an arrest for “Public Lewdness,” a class-B misdemeanor. (Public lewdness also includes things like masturbating in your bedroom window knowing your neighbors can see you.) While first offenders with no record are likely to get a Desk Appearance Ticket, you can be arrested and spend a night in jail awaiting arraignment.
Thinking about picnicking on some anonymous man-meat in Prospect Park or having a romp in the Rambles? Under Park & Rec rules, sexual activity is a misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $1,000 and 90 days in prison.
The NYPD generally has better things to do than make life miserable for people doing things that some consider harmless, silly or mildly stupid fun. So if you’re caught doing any of the above, you may get off with just a warning (particularly in neighborhoods where residents and police are more accustomed to certain behaviors and lifestyles). Still, public drinking, urination, exposure and sex are illegal, and depending on the individual officer and your own cooperativeness, the consequences can be anywhere from mildly annoying to serious.
Forewarned is forearmed, so be smart and know the rules—besides, think of how many cocktails you can buy with all the money you’ll save on fines and penalties!
Editor’s note: The information presented here is believed to be accurate, but is intended primarily for entertainment purposes. It does not constitute legal advice.