What is public intoxication?

Public intoxication is also legally referred to as drunk in public, drunk and disorderly, or intoxicated in public. Typically, public intoxication charges involve an individual who voluntarily becomes visibly drunk and acts in such a way that endangers themselves or others. Punishments for criminal convictions of public intoxication will vary by state but are likely to include jail time, fines, and community service.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 2, 2021

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Public intoxication, otherwise known as public drunkenness, drunk and disorderly, intoxicated in public, or drunk in public, is controlled by both local ordinances and state law.

While public intoxication laws will vary slightly among jurisdiction, if an individual is in a public place, voluntarily becomes or appears to exhibit visible signs of intoxication, and the intoxicated person acts in a way that endangers himself or other people, or otherwise infringes on another’s individual or property rights, a police officer can detain them.

Obstructing public walkways while visibly intoxicated can also lead to a public intoxication charge. In some jurisdictions, simply annoying other individuals while intoxicated in public can be grounds for a public intoxication charge.

Public intoxication charges are not limited to individuals under the influence of alcoholic beverages. Being under the influence of drugs, including over-the-counter medication or a prescription narcotic drug, can also lead to an arrest, being charged with the criminal offense of public intoxication, and a trip to the county jail.

However, unlike other alcohol and drug-related crimes, such as driving under the influence, specific levels of intoxication are not needed to convict for the crime of public intoxication. An individual can be charged with public intoxication when he is or appears to be in a visibly intoxicated condition, no matter the level of drugs or alcohol in their system. The odor of alcohol can be enough to start the process.

Keep reading to find out more about public intoxication. If you still need legal advice, we can help. Enter your ZIP code to get started.

What are possible defenses to a public intoxication charge?

When arrested for public intoxication, the individual can fight the charge by a showing of one or several public intoxication defenses. One defense to public intoxication is based on the voluntariness of intoxication. In other words, in order to be convicted of public intoxication, an individual must have ingested the drugs or alcohol willfully, or voluntarily. If an individual is unknowingly drugged, or otherwise involuntarily ingests an intoxicant, these circumstances offer a complete defense in public intoxication law.

While laws will vary depending on the jurisdiction, simply being drunk in public is usually not illegal. Many individuals have alcoholic drinks and get drunk in bars, clubs, or restaurants. Generally, to be charged with public intoxication, the individual’s behavior has to put them or someone else’s safety at risk, or otherwise infringe on someone else’s rights. If the individual can show (through witnesses) that their behavior did not meet the level necessary to be arrested for public intoxication, this also can be a defense to the charge of public intoxication. These charges are, to some degree, at the discretion of the on-site law enforcement officer.

Being in public is also one of the necessary elements of the crime of public intoxication. This means that if the police arrest an individual for public intoxication while in a private residence or a hotel room, the individual can fight the charge since they were not in public. However, public does not necessarily mean that an individual be in an area where the general public frequents. Public can also be defined as common areas in apartment buildings, or just outside a privately owned residence. So while an officer should not force you out of your home, this legal defense does not work if you voluntarily step out onto public streets.

Even if a person willfully ingests drugs or alcohol in a public place, and their behavior meets the requisite arrest criteria level to be charged, if he was administered medication for medical or therapeutic purposes, this is also a valid defense. However, it is only a defense to the extent the individual can show that he took the proper dosage. This means that if someone is prescribed pain medication once a day and he took five times the dosage prescribed, this defense will not work.

Whatever your defense, at criminal defense attorney has the duty to sew reasonable doubt and provide a reasonable service to their client.

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What are the penalties for a public intoxication conviction?

If convicted, sentences vary both by jurisdiction and whether the individual has prior offenses. In most states and counties, it is usually charged as a misdemeanor offense, which can mean jail time, fines, a number of hours community service, probation, or any combination of the above. Having prior convictions can increase these penalties. Some jurisdictions also require that the individual charged with public intoxication be committed to a drug, substance and/or alcohol treatment center for a number of days or weeks as well to address the alcoholism or addiction. The idea is to address the nature of addiction early.

Even as a misdemeanor charge, a public intoxication offense will stay on an individual’s permanent criminal record. Not only can this be embarrassing for people, but it also may affect an individual’s ability to be admitted into educational programs or cause them to have trouble becoming employed.

Whether you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, call criminal defense lawyers early. This is the best way to avoid unnecessary bumps in the road and minimize the likelihood of a criminal charge.

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