I got a ticket for open container, am I guilty of a criminal offense?

Last year I got a ticket for drinking a beer in public in New York City. I got a summons from a police officer, which required a court appearance. I went, did my duty (“Guilty”), paid my $25 fine, cursed the system, and left.

Now I’m making a job application. The question is “Have you ever been convicted of a crime or received a verdict of anything other than “not guilty” in any criminal investigation or proceeding?”

Well, have I?

I ask because it is my understanding that minor infractions (parking ticket, jaywalking, etc.) usually don’t require disclosure (although I can’t explain exactly why). Does “open container” fall into this category?

Or, does what I described in the first paragraph constitute a “…criminal investigation or proceeding”?

(STANDARD DISCLAIMER - Nobody here is a lawyer and none of the replies constitute legal advice.)


I am having trouble explaining why too but that is certainly not what they are looking for and I would never list it. The wording of the question suggests that they want to know about any felonies you have been convicted of (of course) and possibly some other major misdemeanors. This does not fit the bill at all.

On the other hand, if it comes out later and you didn’t include it in your information, they may have grounds to fire you, especially if they have a “zero tolerance” policy regarding applications and truth.
Maybe you should just explain what happened. It’s a fairly minor affair and it’s hard to believe it would prevent you from being hired, and in fact, they might not be able to turn you down because of that verdict.

Thanks Photo and Shag.

Yes, I suspect the intent is to identify felonies.

But given the exact wording (verbatim from the job application), is what I was involved in a “…criminal investigation or proceeding”?

If the answer is that parking, “open container”, and jaywalking violations are violations of an ordinance but not technically breaking the law, well then I’d be in the clear. But, I don’t really know, which is why I ask.

Ordinances are laws. Yes, you were found “other than not guilty” in a criminal proceeding.

actually, I am concerned about the question itself. “Criminal investigations” do not always result in guilty/not guilty verdicts (the charges can be dropped for example) and, more importantly, one can be part of a criminal investigation and not even be suspected of any criminal behavior.

Go back to the court where you ‘pled guilty’ and ask them specifically “Is ‘open container’ considered a criminal conviction?”.

In my locality, there are ‘ordinance’ violations, which amount to be laws on the cities’ books, such as noise ordinances, trash ordinances, snow removal ordinances etc. One can be ticketed, will have to go to a district court (here a misdemeanor is heard in district court, felony in circuit court, one appears in district court during arraignment for a felony charge as well), one can plead guilty, pay court costs, fines etc, and not have a criminal conviction. (my son got a noise ordinance violation, tho’ at one point they threatened him with a warrant for his arrest, it was not a criminal charge).

pldennison violation/breaking a law does not always = ‘criminal’

examples: Zoning laws - my fence is too high, I’ve broken that law, I am not a criminal. I may be forced to take my fence down, but it’s not criminal.

Ditto seat belt violations, parking tickets. You can even go to jail w/o being a criminal (non payment of child support for example)>

It is not a question that can be answered out of context. In some localities this is classified as a misdameanor, which is a crime, no two ways about it. In others, it may be classified as something else. (For instance, in Virginia, most speeding tickets count as “violations,” which are specifically defined in the VA Code as non-criminal offenses.) It’s up to your state legislature or city council as to whether this offense was a crime or not. (The fact that you had to appear, instead of merely pleading by mail, suggests that it probably was a crime, but it’s not conclusive.)

What you should do is contact the Court and find out whether the offense of which you were convicted was or was not criminal. Furthermore, you might want to report it either way. It seems unlikely that it will be held against you by a prospective employer, but if it comes out it could cause big problems in the future.

–Cliffy, Esq.

First, it appears that you were not guilty of a criminal offense, assuming that you were ticketed under the New York City ordinance prohibiting open containers. That ordinance (NYC Admin. Code sec. 10-125 provides:

The key words there are “civil penalty” – civil, meaning “not criminal.” So it appears, assuming this is the ordinance you broke, that your actions were not criminal. Similar “minor infractions” (jaywalking, speeding) generally do not require disclosure because they are not criminal, either, they are civil violations.

Second, employers ask about criminal histories not only to weed out violent felons, but also to judge the honesty of applicants. In most cases, lying about your criminal history – if they find out about it – is enough to immediately remove the applicant from contention for the job. So when in doubt, find out, and if you’re still not sure, disclose the ticket.

Third, such conduct is not always non-criminal, though it appears to be in your case. In other jurisdictions, ‘open container’ may constitute a petty offense or a misdemeanor. But in general, violation of an ordinance is not a crime, because cities and towns generally do not have the power to independently criminalize behavior. So if you see from a ticket that you have broken a local or municipal ordinance (as opposed to a statute), then it’s a pretty safe bet (though not a sure bet) that you have not committed a crime.

EEK. Please, oh please, in my above posting addressed to pldennison, read instead "plnnr My most sincere appologies for any confusion.

I’m not sure, but I have a funny anecdote from having gotten busted for open container in NYC.
When I went to court, everyone else who was there was also there for open container. The judge would ask you what you were drinking at the time. If it was a domestic beer you got a $15 fine. $20 for imported. Man i had a laugh at that (Of course I was drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale)

Tough question, but you’d probably be better listing it, assuming you have a place to explain. It’d be better if you had the chance to explain in person; hell, you and the HR guy might have a good laugh over it, and move on. Minor things on a job application can come back to bite you in the ass, and it’s one of those things that “sticks with you” throughout your employment.

I’ve been to traffic court, and accepted a “plea bargain”…would I have to answer “yes” on said application? There definitely seems to be a gray area. Was there a distinction made between “criminal” proceedings, and simple “infractions” (which I take to be violations of the municipal code, local ordinances, and the like)?

For practical reasons, I’d wait until you are just about to sign the contract, then disclose. At that stage they’ll know and like you you well enough to let you finish the sentence “Actually, re having a criminal offence…” without slamming the door in your face.

You can blame ignorance for letting them know at the 11th hour: “When I filled out the application I didn’t realise this counted as a conviction, etc, but a friend just informed me…” If they are such assholes that they withdraw the contract for (a) your petty offence and (b) not letting them know right at the start, they’re probably not a company that you want to work for. Some flexibility is always needed, IMO.

I wouldn’t tick the “Yes! Convicted” box on any application forms, because it will almost guarantee you ending up on the NEVER scrapheap, which in your case really wouldn’t be fair.

In VA, violations of zoning laws (at least in the jurisdiction where I was the Zoning Administrator) was a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $1,000 per day of violation and a year in jail. If you broke the law, you had committed a criminal offense.

Your local laws may vary.

Sorry, that was in response to wring’s post.

AFAIK, in the spot where you check “yes” or “no,” there’s a space for you to give details. I’d play it safe, check “yes” and say what it was. Unless the employer is extremely puritanical, they’ll just smile and dismiss it.

IANAL , but in New York State , a crime is defined as a misdemeanor or felony. Infractions or violations are not crimes, but may still require an appearance. If you pled guilty to AC 10-125, it’s a violation ( less than a misdemeanor, and thus not a crime) as the maximum sentence is 5 days imprisonment

I think half the drinking population in NYC has been stopped or popped for an open container. You plead guilty & pay said fine but to the best of my recollection you do not appear in criminal court to do this so it probably is not a criminal offence.

plnr - a zoning offense in your jurisdiction is a criminal matter?

won’t even touch that. BUt your prior statement about “breaking the law = criminal” is not true, as has been pointed out by wide variety of folks here, certainly not true for the issue and place described by the OP.

RE: checking the box = they won’t ever hire you. Not always true in my experience (have worked w/offenders for 20+ years, the last 10 of them in the field of employment). While some employers screen out all offenders, most that I’ve come across will at least listen to the issue involved.

and I maintain also, that if your citation isn’t criminal in nature, than the proper response to the question in the OP is “No”, you’ve not pled guilty, been found guilty etc in a criminal procedure. You can plead guilty to a speeding ticket, a parking ticket etc, generally those are not criminal offenses. If the app says ‘criminal’ then it’s not a lie or evasion to say ‘no’ if the issue was not crimnal in nature.

The question on that application seems overly broad. It seems that only might the open container count but any infraction committed ever. That means going back through your entire history of speeding tickets, spitting on the sidewalk tickets, jaywalking tickets and so on. Most such applications I’ve seen that ask this usually specify a felony only (or anything greater than a Class ?? Misdemeanor that is a larger crime than speeding tickets and the like).

I’ve had friends of mine tell me that applying to sit for the Bar Exam was harder than the exam itself. Among a bunch of hoops that needed to be jumped through I was told they had to list every legal infraction they have ever committed which included things like jaywalking and speeding. If they weren’t pulling my leg it sounds like a real drag to try and dredge all that old crap back up.