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New York Judge Calls for Lab Testing of Beverages in Public Drinking Cases

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A New York judge said this week that police should be required to prove beverages cited in public drinking cases are alcoholic, through laboratory testing. Judge Noach Dear said he hoped his ruling would persuade the New York Police Department to reconsider its enforcement of the public drinking law, which he said disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics.

“As hard as I try, I cannot recall ever arraigning a white defendant for such a violation,” he wrote in a decision regarding a public drinking case. He dismissed the case, in which a man admitted to drinking beer on a city sidewalk.

A review of the previous month’s public-drinking summonses in Brooklyn revealed 85 percent were issued to blacks and Latinos; 4 percent were issued to whites, The New York Times reports. Brooklyn’s population is 36 percent white, according to census data.

Judge Dear called for scrutiny of the Police Department’s enforcement of the open container law. He said it should be immediately stopped if it is found to be discriminatory. The “sniff test” is not enough to prove a beverage is alcoholic, he wrote. Under the city’s open-container law, police can issue a summons if a drink’s alcohol content exceeds 0.5 percent.

The fine for violating the law is $25. When police officers issue a summons for violating the law, they can check the person for outstanding warrants.

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