A Beer in Public - WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco

A Beer in Public

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A bench across from the American Airlines Arena A bench across from the American Airlines Arena

You get to an event a little early. You decide to sit outside and sip a beer. The next thing you know, you are facing criminal charges. Legal or illegal? Well, it's why one man called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

WSVN -- If you look around Derrick Hoffman's house, it's obvious he likes to collect things. Lots of things.

Derrick Hoffman: "Horror items and rock 'n' roll figures, or certain sports figures like the Heat."

Derrick is a big Heat fan, trying to get every item available from this Heat era.

Derrick Hoffman: "I've got to to have them because this is a time in history in Miami, or South Florida, where we have a team for the ages."

And it's a trip to watch the Heat play at American Airlines Arena that got Derrick in hot water.

Derrick Hoffman: "I said, 'OK, I've got to kill some time."

While waiting for a friend, Derrick bought a bag of chips and a beer at this gas station, then walked to a bench and sat down across the street from the arena.

Derrick Hoffman: "Finished my chips, finished my candy bar, finished my beverage in question and threw it in the trash, started walking away."

A few seconds later, he heard a man tell him to stop.

Derrick Hoffman: "'I'm a police officer.' I'm like, 'OK. What's wrong?' He said, 'Were you drinking a beer?' or 'I saw you drinking a beer.' I said, 'Yeah, I had a beer, but it's in the garbage can already.'"

The officer apparently didn't know what beer Derrick had been drinking.

Derrick Hoffman: "He asked me, 'Were you drinking a Natural Ice?' I'm like, 'Natural Ice? What's that? And I told him a Heineken, so they proceeded to write off the ticket."

Derrick was surprised to see the ticket, and told the officer he had seen several other people with a beer.

Derrick Hoffman: "He didn't really answer that. He said, 'If you keep asking questions, we could take you downtown."

Derrick says he was so upset he didn't enjoy the game that November night, and then in December when he got the order to appear in court, his stomach really started churning.

Derrick Hoffman: "And it says, 'You have to go for a criminal arraignment.

Derrick couldn't believe the officer charged him with a crime for drinking a beer outside the Arena.

Derrick Hoffman: "And they said, 'Hey, there is a guy, it's slow tonight. There is no one scalping tickets to bust. Let's go mess with this guy,' and that's what they did. They came and messed with me."

Now if Derrick is found guilty, he will have a criminal conviction on his record for the rest of his life.

Derrick Hoffman: "Bottom line: You plead guilty or no contest, you have a criminal record that does not go away, and at age 57, I'm not going to have a criminal record for something so absurd."

Well, Howard, if Derrick was on the Arena property, he would not have received a ticket, but since he was on the sidewalk, he got a ticket. Legal or not?

Howard Finkelstein: "Legal, because as the law is written in Miami, it would cover the sidewalk next to Biscayne Boulevard. But it is winnable for Derrick because they don't have the beer can, and the officer had to even ask him what kind of beer he was drinking."

Derrick Hoffman: "For the past month, my stomach has been in knots."

Derrick went to court ready to fight the charge.

Judge: "What is your name, sir?"

Derrick Hoffman: "Derrick Hoffman."

But before Derrick could say a word, the judge made his decision.

Judge: "Nolle pros. You can go, sir, but don't drink in public."

Derrick Hoffman: "Thank you, Your Honor."

The judge told him, nolle pros. Howard, wanna explain what it means and the impact on Derrick's record?

Howard Finkelstein: "It's a Latin phrase that means 'no prosecution,' which says the state has chosen not to use its limited resources to go after a guy drinking a beer. The arrest might be on his record, but Derrick could get that sealed if he wanted to. Even if he doesn't, it's not a problem."

Derrick didn't get the conviction, but he's still amazed he got charged with a crime, a charge the state quickly threw out.

Derrick Hoffman: "I don't understand why the City of Miami would allow those officers to write that up knowing that they must know it's going to be thrown out, and to waste the court's time, Miami's taxpayers' money."

Howard says the problem with those drinking-in-public laws is that they are often vague. For example, in Miami the city manager can grant an exception allowing people to drink in public, and there are no guidelines determining when, where, why, meaning the law is unclear and could be unconstitutional. It's another reason those charges often get tossed out in court.

Problems stopping you from chugging along? Ready to bench the headache? Contact us. We will pour out a solution that hopefully will be intoxicating, in a good way, of course.

With this Help Me Howard, I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:

E-mail: helpmehoward@wsvn.com (please include your contact phone number when e-mailing)
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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