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Public Intoxication

Key Takeaways:

  • Public intoxication involves appearing intoxicated in a public place, usually presenting a threat to others.
  • Some states don't require you to be actually intoxicated for public intoxication charges.
  • It can be a defense to public intoxication if you are in a private establishment or you are at home.

Public intoxication and drunk and disorderly charges are often used interchangeably. Both mean that a person was publicly under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Typically, public intoxication is a misdemeanor offense. You could face stiffer penalties if there are additional charges like criminal mischief.

Being cited by a police officer for public drunkenness can feel like a low point, but there are steps you can take to mitigate your legal penalties. For more information on your state’s public intoxication laws, contact a public intoxication criminal defense lawyer.

What Is Public Intoxication Law?

There are two essential elements involved in a public intoxication charge. First, the intoxicated person must be in a “public place.” What counts as a public place is generally up to the courts, as no standard definition exists.

Some local ordinances consider bars and restaurants public. Others consider them private property. Common areas of apartment complexes and streets in residential areas may also be public residences in some states.

Second, your behavior or demeanor must show that you appear intoxicated under a controlled substance. Some state laws can charge you even if you are not drunk. The mere appearance of intoxication or impairment by drugs may be enough for a conviction. This means a blood alcohol content test may not be necessary.

A Threat to Others

Some jurisdictions also require you to be a threat to the safety of others. This could include throwing things or trying to get into a fight. A threat could also include when you are a threat to yourself.

For example, if you are drunk, stumbling, and yelling at a public park, you could face a charge of public intoxication. If you are not drunk but are still threatening people, you could still face criminal charges. However, if you are intoxicated but calm and not disruptive, this shouldn’t be public intoxication.

Public Intoxication Sentences and Defenses

An accusation of public intoxication can have serious repercussions. This can be more problematic when combined with other charges, like disorderly conduct or criminal mischief. In most jurisdictions, public intoxication is a misdemeanor, but the penalties can remain on your record for years.

Possible punishments can range from fines to probation, community service, or time in the county jail. After a conviction, some judges may require you to attend an alcohol treatment facility.

Aggravating factors can cause sentences to be more severe. For example, if you already had a drunk and disorderly citation in the past, you could face a harsher sentence. In some states, a third offense is public intoxication and can result in a punishment of up to two years in prison.

However, you and your attorney can mount many defenses to public intoxication charges. Some examples are:

  • You were neither drunk nor acting as if you were
  • Public intoxication is not a crime in your jurisdiction
  • You were arrested in a private location
  • You were forced into a public space by law enforcement officers and then arrested
  • Your behavior was the result of taking medication at the prescribed dosage

How Can an Attorney Help?

After a summary offense for drunk and disorderly conduct, you may be able to fight the charges to avoid jail time and a criminal record. Your attorney can review local criminal law and identify legal defenses to get the prosecutor to drop the charges.

Your attorney might be able to plead the charges down to an open container. This can mean community service instead of a criminal offense on your record. A criminal defense attorney with experience fighting public intoxication charges can tell you more about your legal options. Talk to a public intoxication defense lawyer for legal advice.

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