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Public Intoxication

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, but if there are additional charges, such as criminal mischief, you could face stiffer penalties.

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. Get in touch with an attorney in your area that is experienced in your jurisdiction's public intoxication laws.

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 there is no standard definition. Some jurisdictions consider bars and restaurants public, for example, while others consider them private property. Common areas of apartment complexes and streets in residential areas may also be public residence in some states.

Second, your behavior or demeanor must clearly show that you seem intoxicated under a controlled substance. Under some state laws, you can be convicted even if you are not drunk. The mere appearance of being intoxicated or high on drugs may be enough for a conviction, which means that a blood alcohol content test may not be required.

A Threat to Others

Some jurisdictions also require you to be a threat to the safety of others to be guilty of public intoxication, such as by throwing objects or attempting to fight other people. This can also apply when people are a threat to themselves.

For example, if you are intoxicated, stumbling, and yelling at a public park, you could potentially face a public intoxication charge. If you are not drunk but are still yelling loudly and stumbling, you could still face criminal charges. However, if you are intoxicated but calm and not disruptive, or if you are at home, this would likely not be considered public intoxication.

Public Intoxication Sentences and Defenses

An accusation of public intoxication, especially if combined with another charge, such as disorderly conduct or criminal mischief, can have serious repercussions. Even though public intoxication is a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions, the penalties can remain on your criminal record for years. Possible punishment for this charge can range from fines to probation, community service, and even time in the county jail. If you are convicted, many judges will also require you to attend an alcohol treatment facility.

Aggravating factors can cause sentences to be more severe. For example, if you already have a criminal record or you received a drunk and disorderly citation in the past, you could face a harsher sentence. In some states, a third offense is considered aggravated 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 the jurisdiction where you were arrested
  • You were arrested while in a private location
  • You were forced into a public location by police and then arrested
  • Your behavior was the result of taking medication at the prescribed dosage

Suppose you are charged with drunk and disorderly conduct. In that case, you may be able to fight the charge with the help of a criminal defense attorney who has experience fighting public intoxication charges. After discussing the details of your case, your attorney will know how to best advise you.

For some people, a solution might be entering into a plea agreement with the prosecutor to help remove the public intoxication charge from their record. In other circumstances, it might be worth constructing a strong defense against the charges to avoid a conviction altogether.