City Police Blotter

Natatia Bledsoe is the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.

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No Drinking and Tubing and other important Life Lessons

My older son graduated last week from James Monroe High School (gratuitous proud parental picture inserted here) and he is currently enjoying his congratulatory gift from Grandma on a trip to Ireland.  Grandma Brenda not only financed his trip but traveled along with him as chaperone, while she herself benefits from the advantages of having an amusing companion with the useful capability of carrying vast amounts of luggage.

Yesterday evening while Mark, Younger Son, Hank and I were dining at a sidewalk table downtown, Older Son called from his hotel and entertained us by describing – in a surprisingly convincing Gaelic accent – his newfound appreciation for Guinness, the heartbreaking beauty and drama of the Irish countryside, and the lifelong bosom friends he had just made in the neighborhood pub.  While Older Son is eighteen and therefore partaking legally in the local customs on his vacation, he was reminded by Mark (generally acknowledged to be the family curmudgeon) that such pastimes would not be allowed upon his return. 

This phone call led to a later conversation with Younger Son about the laws pertaining to alcohol, including some restrictions that are specific to Fredericksburg and other restrictions that are particularly specific to Younger Son.  Those latter rules being of little interest to the general discussion, I’ll refrain from mentioning them here.  

It’s safe to say that most people know it is illegal to purchase alcohol before the age of 21 or to drive while intoxicated.  But there are other alcohol laws that may be surprising to some, and there can be misunderstanding about the police department’s strategy toward enforcement of laws related to alcohol consumption.

Public intoxication

It is illegal to be intoxicated in public § 18.2-388.  According to state code, “intoxicated” means a condition in which a person has drunk enough alcoholic beverages to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior.  

It is not necessary for a police officer to administer a breathalyzer exam on a person to arrest that person for public intoxication.  Why?  Because the code says that the state of intoxication is determined by observable behavior.  The officer must then be able to articulate those observed behaviors to the magistrate when affecting the arrest.  Slurred speech, loss of coordination, and the odor of alcoholic beverage on a person are all examples of observable conditions.

 Do the police drive around beating the bushes and looking for drunk people?  No.

 The overwhelming majority of public intoxication arrests occur because the police have received a call about someone creating some type of disturbance: fighting with other patrons in a bar, waking the neighbors by shouting in the street, staggering into traffic, etc.  Police arrive and they have a decision to make.  They can turn the offender over to a sober friend for safe-keeping, they can assist the offender with getting a taxi, or, if the disturbance is occurring at the offender’s own home, the officer can advise the intoxicated person to stop the activity that prompted the complaint and stay inside.

What the officer can not do is leave the offender out in public, creating a danger to both the intoxicated individual and to society at large.  If a person is drunk and can’t drive himself home, doesn’t have any sober friends willing to take responsibility for him, spent all his cash at the bar and has no taxi fare, and is not within easy walking distance of his own safe bed, then the officer has no reasonable option but to take him to jail.

The police do not want to curtail the legal practices of city businesses that serve alcohol, nor do we have any interest in returning to the age of Prohibition.  But if you’re going to consume, don’t consume so much that it leads to you peeing on the sidewalk, picking a fight with a group of Marines, or singing your alma mater’s fight song at the top of your lungs in the middle of Caroline Street.  Those activities will draw our attention.  

For purposes of further education, state code defines a “Public place” as any place, building, or conveyance to which the public has, or is permitted to have, access, including restaurants, soda fountains, hotel dining areas, lobbies and corridors of hotels, and any park, place of public resort or amusement, highway, street, lane, or sidewalk adjoining any highway, street, or lane.

Drinking in public

It is illegal to consume alcoholic beverages in public, unless the premises are controlled according to licensing by the state ABC Board. § 4.1-308

While state code prohibits alcohol from public places, the City of Fredericksburg has additionally enacted local ordinances that specifically prohibit alcoholic beverages from certain city parks and from the publicly owned land along the Rappahannock River.  No drinking and tubing allowed! 

On just a slight tangent, it is also illegal to have glass containers in the parks and on the riverbank.  So at your picnic, make sure you take your non-alcoholic beverages in cans or plastic bottles.  Then recycle.

Alcohol and underage consumers

It is illegal for any person under the age of 21 to consume, purchase, or possess alcoholic beverages.  It is additionally illegal for a person to use a false ID to purchase alcohol, whether that ID came from a website called or from the wallet of your older sibling without his permission.

 It is of course illegal to purchase alcoholic beverages for an underage person.

 Driving under the Influence

It is illegal to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a motor vehicle.  The legal allowable limit for a person’s blood alcohol level is .08, unless that person is under the age of 21.  For underage drivers, there is essentially zero tolerance for intoxication.  If you are arrested for DUI, you will spend the night in jail and you will automatically lose your license for 7 days.  Once you go to court, the judge will decide whether or not you receive a longer license suspension, a fine, and/or jail time.

It never hurts to repeat important information. 

It is illegal to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a motor vehicle.  Don’t do it.  If you’ve had enough to drink that you feel the least bit impaired, call a taxi, call your mother, or call a friend.  Lives are lost, careers are ruined, and Very Important Life Plans are derailed every day because people do not heed this advice.  (Are you listening, Younger Son?)

Meanwhile, back in Ireland

 Mark just received another phone call from Older Son.  While he sounded a bit more subdued than he did during our conversation last night, the new Irish accent is still in place.  I expect he’ll quickly lose that habit during the next stop on his Grand Tour: the Ratline at VMI.  

Another gratuitous addition, the VMI parade