New Jersey Beach Law: What You Need to Know Before You Head to the Shore
Have fun but be smart when visiting shore communities.
While its obviously illegal to drive down to the Shore or anywhere under the influence of alcohol and/or any controlled dangerous substance, including marijuana, those heading down to the Shore should also recognize that N.J.S.A. 39:4-51b makes it illegal for anyone in a car to have an open container of alcohol. This includes recorked or resealed bottles, as well as cups, glasses, or open bottles or cans. Don’t drink and drive; even if you’re just a passenger!
While the New Jersey Open Container Law does not prevent open containers or drinking in public; and while NJSA 26:2B-26 specifically outlaws local municipalities from making public intoxication illegal unless the person is driving, creating a disturbance, or otherwise causing a public nuisance, nearly every New Jersey shore town has made it illegal to bring open containers or any alcohol onto the beach. Some shore towns even have “alcohol checkpoints” at their beach entrances, permitting bags and coolers to be searched as a condition to getting on the beach. Underage drinking in New Jersey, on and/or off our beaches, has become a serious issue. Driver’s licenses can be suspended for underage drinking wherever it occurs. NJSA 2C:33-15 makes in a disorderly persons for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase, consume, or possess alcoholic beverages. If the defendant is over 18 but under 21, he or she can face a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1000. If the defendant is under 18, then he or she will face juvenile delinquency hearings in Family Court. In addition, any person under 21 caught in possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle can have his or her license suspended for six months, even if they weren’t driving!
In addition, and while the public’s right to access the beaches and waterfronts in New Jersey is protected by the public trust doctrine, which is the principle that establishes that the states title waters and adjacent shorelines belong to the public to be used for navigation, commerce, and recreation, including bathing, swimming, and fishing, members of the public must still adhere to state and local laws regarding same. Specifically, beachgoers may NOT do any of the following: 1) behave or dress in a manner reasonably likely to offend public decency, 2) leave litter or mess, 3) deface damage or destroy public property (e.g., seats, fences, buildings); 4) cause annoyance to any other person; 4) cause obstruction to free passage; inconvenience any other person by offering goods or services; 5) ride horses or let dogs off the leash outside certain times; 6)allow a dog to poop without cleaning up after your dog; and/or 7) place fishing lines above the low watermark at certain times. While nudity on the beach is not specifically prohibited, nudity that is “reasonably likely to offend public decency” is and remains prohibited.
Activities that require permission from state and/or local authorities include the following: 1) driving on the beach, unless collecting sand, shingle, fishing boats or fishing gear; 2) parking on the beach, parking on any slipway, other than where notices allow it; 3) selling things or offering things to rent on any beach; 4) putting up any display or sign on any beach; and/or 5) holding a meeting where music would be played or music, speech, or images used.
Horses or ponies must not be ridden on the beach from 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM between May 1 and September 30. Dogs must be kept on leashes on the beach from 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM between May 1 and September 30.
Beach badges are also the law of the land. Every shore town has the right to impose a reasonable charge to utilize the beaches within their municipality. While there is pending legislation that would make it illegal for beach towns to charge veterans for beach badges and presumably other exceptions could be carved out, use of our New Jersey beaches during the Summer may also require that you pay for badges. Atlantic City is one beach that has historically not charged for badges to use their beaches.
Beach Town Behavior
Summer is also the season for “stupid behavior” that often results in complaints for criminal mischief, simple assault, driving while under the influence, and alcohol/drug related offenses that are generally heard in the Municipal Court of each shore town after preliminary discovery is exchanged between the municipal prosecutor and defense attorney. While these matters may appear to be relatively simple, any individual and/or parent dealing with a matter to be heard in a Municipal Court should be represented by a competent ethical attorney who is both familiar with the applicable New Jersey law and unique circumstances of the specific shore town municipal court, municipal prosecutor and police department. Expungement of convictions and/or guilty pleas should also be addressed with your attorney before rather than after the case is heard.