What To Know About Public Intoxication Laws

Public intoxication laws vary by state, but states often charge them as a misdemeanor. Here’s everything to know about public intoxication laws.

Public intoxication defines when a defendant is intoxicated in a public place and causing a considerable disturbance to the public. An individual can use several defenses against a public intoxication charge.

What is Public Intoxication?

Public intoxication (also known as “drunken or disorderly conduct”) entails when a defendant is in a public place under the influence of an intoxicating substance. Examples of public intoxication include if someone was walking down the street while drunk. Most public intoxication laws require the defendant to have created a disturbance or threat. Examples of a disturbance or threat are if the defendant was using offensive language or blocking the sidewalk.

The basic elements of public intoxication are if the individual:

  • Was under the influence of a substance,
  • Caused a disturbance or harm to another person, and
  • Was present in a public place.

All three of these elements must occur for the state to consider the action public intoxication. States define a “public place” in a variety of ways. For example, Texas considers any place under the Alcoholic Beverage Code a public place. Hence, no “private club” card exists in Texas.

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Public Intoxication Laws

States classify public intoxication as either a crime, infraction, or neither.

In most states, public intoxication is a misdemeanor carrying jail time (up to a year) and fines (range from $500-$2,500). First time offenders often will choose pretrial diversions, such as community service or probation. As well, if the defendant is only under the influence of alcohol, the officer may choose to take them to a “sobering facility,” where they will remain for 72 hours.

Some states consider public intoxication an infraction. These offenses only carry fines (ranging from $100-$500), hence, a state will not punish them with jail time. Some places also call infractions violations, summary offenses, petty offenses, or civil infractions.

Other states, such as Alaska and Nevada, do not consider public intoxication a criminal offense, but instead require law enforcement to take defendants to a treatment facility.

Some states view public intoxication as a disturbance of the peace that harms society, therefore, it should be punished as a crime. Others view that public intoxication should be addressed through treatment, especially when it is chronic. As well, other states do not have any statewide public intoxication laws at all. Hence, states do not view public intoxication in a singular, uniform way.

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Defenses to Public Intoxication Charges

Multiple defenses exist for beating a public intoxication charges:

  • Not intoxicated or insufficient inebriation,
  • No disturbance or harm,
  • Not a public place, and/or
  • Prescription medication.

If a defendant can prove they were not intoxicated, caused no disturbance, were not in a public place, or were on a prescription medication, they may have a defense to public intoxication charges. A defendant does not need to prove all of these factors, they only need to prove one.

Another potential defense someone can use is if the authorities made the arrest illegally. An example of this is if the authorities did not read the Miranda Rights to the individual. If someone thinks the authorities made their arrest illegally, they should reach out to a defense attorney to help overturn their public intoxication charges.

FAQs About Public Intoxication Laws by State

Can a state cite someone for public intoxication in a private place?

No, for a state to consider a crime public intoxication, the offense must have occurred in public. Hence, if a police officer comes to someone’s house, they can not cite them for public intoxication. As well, if a police officer orders someone to go to a public place then cites the defendant for public intoxication, they can claim they were not in a public place at the time of the crime.

What can someone do if they have been cited for public intoxication?

If the state charges an individual with public intoxication, they should research the public intoxication laws in their state to see what potential punishments apply. The defendant should review the defenses (listed above) to see if they qualify. Lastly, the individual should get a criminal defense attorney to help aid them with the best options. Her Lawyer offers experienced defense attorneys who can provide a free consultation today to help one decide what the best route is for them.

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