What Is a Local Ordinance?

Local ordinances may set rules against smoking in certain public areas.
Local ordinances can control things such as yard conditions.
Jail time is one possible consequence for breaking state laws.
Local ordinances are discussed in public meetings before being adopted.
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  • Written By: L. Dunne
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2014
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In the United States, a local ordinance is considered a rule of conduct put in place by the local government in a city or town and can be found in the municipal code for that particular city or town. These regulations are voted on by the city council and may include issues such as zoning, traffic, taxes, parks, pets, and construction. The city ordinance is only effective within the city limits.

The charge for violating a local ordinance is a civil infraction in most instances and is considered non-criminal. The punishment for violating the ordinance is usually a fine, probation or community service. Many cities also have a maximum fine, and no more can be charged, regardless of the ordinance violation. In a trial for violation of an ordinance, a public defender is not available to the accused as no jail time is possible. The accused may hire a private defender if he or she so chooses.

Often, the municipal code merely re-enforces state laws. If the violated local ordinance mirrors a state law, then both were violated. Violation of a state law is more serious, and the accused may be charged with violating that law rather than the city ordinance. The state prosecutor, not a city attorney, will prosecute these violations. A conviction for violating a state law will also carry a stiffer sentence, which may include jail time.


The burden of proof in ordinance cases is a preponderance of evidence. In a state case, it is beyond a reasonable doubt. In most cases, an ordinance violation will not show on a criminal record or background check, unless a state law was also violated. A conviction for the state charge, not the ordinance, will show up on the record and background check. Violators should check with the county clerk to be sure, however, prior to assuming they have no criminal record for a city ordinance violation.

Local police enforce the municipal code for the city. State highway patrol officers or sheriffs are unable to detain for or charge an individual with a violation of a local ordinance. State and federal laws will always overrule local ordinances, if there is a discrepancy. Any individual or group of people can challenge a local ordinance, if they believe that an ordinance violates rights set forth by the US constitution.


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