Can I Go to Jail for Drinking on the Street in Chicago?

Last week, Chicago’s City Council approved certain amendments to the Municipal Code that increases penalties for some public crimes.  As the Chicago Sun Times recently reported, fines for public intoxication, urination, and gambling will be increased and could end in up to 6 months in jail.  So called “quality of life” ordinances because they seek to promote citizens quality of life by promoting public safety and prohibiting activities the government deems interfere with a thriving community.

These types of laws are in place to protect you and your enjoyment of public areas, but there may be a time when you find yourself in a situation where you have unwittingly violated an ordinance or simply do not understand the consequences.  Because we all know life happens sometimes, here is a brief overview of the increased penalties for these ordinances.

Public Drinking

Municipal Ordinance 8-4-030 deals with drinking in public and prohibits consuming or carrying alcohol in public except when you just bought it or are taking it somewhere, but it must be sealed or contained in proper packaging of some sort.  New changes to the law increase fines from the $100-$500 range up to $500-$1000 range and could result in up to 6 months in jail if you violate this ordinance within 800 feet of a parade route.  According to 8-16-050, an intoxicated minor cited within 800 feet of a parade could be fined $500 or given 25 hours of community service.

Public Urination

Municipal Ordinance 8-4-081 prevents urination or defecation on a public way, public property, or any outdoor private property.  The original punishment for this infraction is similar to the above with a fine ranging between $100 and $500 and potential jail time of 5 to 10 days.  Now, if this crime is committed within 800 feet of a parade route, the fine becomes between $500 and $1000.


Municipal Ordinance 08-12-010 makes gambling illegal in Chicago whether on the street or in a structure.  Currently, the penalty for violating this ordinance is to pay a fine ranging from $25 to $200.

Additional Penalties Proposed

The Chicago Tribune reported recently that along with the above changes to the Municipal Code, Mayor Rahm Emanuel also proposed that increased punishments should occur if you fail to show up for court or pay the fine for any of these infractions.

The Mayor’s proposal would double the fines and possible jail time if you ignore your citation.  The proposed changes would allow police to arrest someone if they have to issue multiple citations for the same crime.  Before, the law didn’t allow for such harsh punishment because the crime was an ordinance violation that didn’t carry such a penalty for failure to appear or pay the fine.

Going to jail for 6 months and paying hundreds of dollars in fines seems a mighty steep penalty for a crime that isn’t very serious.  This is why it is important to be aware of these types of changes so that you can avoid costing yourself time, money, and grief.  Remember, your best defense will come form those who do this everyday.  Call a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney for assistance and further information.

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