Gasparilla 2012 Brings Changes to Zero Tolerance
Over the last several years the Tampa Police Department and other law enforcement agencies have been making hundreds of arrests at the Gasparilla pirate fest. Most of these arrests have been for crimes related to alcohol consumption. In response to complaints from people living near the parade route, the city began to make arrests for crimes that were seldom enforced in the past at Gasparilla. Over the last two years, the majority of the arrests were for possession of an open container of alcohol.
We have found that most of the people we represented for these arrests had no idea that they were in violation of any law. In fact, because alcohol is sold on the parade route, most people believed that they were allowed to bring alcohol to the parade and did not know that alcohol was only allowed on the actual parade route. Many of the people we represented were mere feet from the parade route and were walking to or from the parade. Most of the people charged with these violations are law abiding citizens who would never knowingly violate the law.
During our representation, we have also found that many of the stops and detentions of our clients were not legal stops. Many officers were stopping every person with any type of cup or container without any knowledge that the cups contained alcohol. It was only after the illegal detention that the officer was able to discover that the cup contained an alcoholic beverage. As a result, we filed motions to suppress evidence in many of those cases and the evidence was suppressed, resulting in the dismissal of many of these cases.
After Gasparilla 2011, the City of Tampa decided to change the open container ordinance to make it a civil infraction instead of a criminal violation. Click here for a link to the new code.
This change means that if you are caught with an open container outside of the parade route, you will no longer be facing the risk of jail time or a criminal record if convicted. The violation is now similar to a traffic ticket that can be paid. You will still have the right to challenge the violation in court if you choose, and all of the defenses we have used in the past will still be available.
This change only applies to open container charges in the City of Tampa. No change was made to any laws of the State of Florida that are enforced at Gasparilla. The majority of State law violations at Gasparilla have been possession of alcoholic beverages by persons under age 21. If recent years are any indicator, this will be the most common charge issued at this year's parade.
If you are under the age of 21 you need to be aware that law enforcement will be looking for these violations. I would also expect that now that open container is simply an infraction, law enforcement will be looking even harder for underage drinking. Every year we represent young people, many who are college students, charged with this crime. If you are under age do not possess alcohol at the parade or there is a very good chance that you will be arrested.
The other crime that law enforcement will be looking for is boating under the influence. Last year it appeared that every law enforcement agency that had any vessel that would float was stopping boats during the pirate invasion. If you are planning on taking your boat to Gasparilla,
the captain should not drink any alcohol. It is important for boaters to remember that the rules are different for boaters. Law enforcement does not have to see you violate a law to stop your vessel.
You can be stopped for a safety check of your vessel to see if you have all of your required safety equipment. However, that is only an excuse used to see if the captain has been drinking. You can be sure if they smell alcohol on the operator they will take them off the water for a sobriety test. Even if they manage to pass these tests they will still suffer the embarrassment of being towed to a dock with your passengers watching. The best advice on how to avoid a B.U.I. is to not drink and boat.
We hope that you have a safe and arrest free Gasparilla. However, if you find this article after you have been arrested you may reach us at 813-321-7323. We have an experienced attorney on call 24 hours and always offer a free consultation.