What Is Public Intoxication?
Public intoxication, also called public drunkenness, is a misdemeanor crime that a person is visibly drunk or under the influence of drugs in public. These laws exist to prevent people from disturbing others in public and to remove people who appear to be unable to stop themselves from hurting themselves or others.
Read on to learn more about public intoxication laws, charges associated with them, and defenses that may be available to you.
Basic Elements of a Public Intoxication Charge
By definition, a public intoxication charge usually has three basic elements, all of which must be met in order to obtain a conviction. Specifically, it must be shown that a defendant:
- Was under the influence of alcohol/drugs/controlled substances;
- Caused a disturbance or harm to another person; and
- Was present in a public place.
Under the Influence
In addition to establishing that you were under the influence, many states also require prosecutors to prove that you seemed so out of control that you didn't appear to be able to take care of yourself, or that you presented a threat to the safety of others. For example, if you walk out of a Birmingham bar appearing tipsy, boisterous, behaving in a lewd manner, or swearing, then you could likely be cited under Alabama's public intoxication statute.
In many states, public intoxication offenses don't even require that you were actually drunk to be convicted of the charge. You simply must have appeared drunk or high on drugs.
Causing a Disturbance
Your behavior and demeanor will be a key component of the charges. If you were disruptive and bother others with your actions, this qualifies. In Florida, you could be charged for disorderly intoxication which is classified as misdemeanor in the second degree.
Presence in a Public Place
Another key element of any public intoxication charge is that you must actually be in public. What makes a place public? There is no single legal definition of a public place and not all states define it. Determining the public or private nature of the place where you received a public intoxication charge is the type of issue that courts examine in public intoxication cases.
Texas is one of those states that provides some definition of "public place" in its public intoxication statute as it includes as public places "premises licensed or permitted under the Alcoholic Beverage Code." So there's no playing the "private club" card in Texas.
Public Intoxication: Defenses and Exceptions
If you're accused of being publicly intoxicated, your lawyer may be able to raise legal defenses. Here are some of the defenses to public intoxication charges:
You Were Not Drunk and Were Not Acting Drunk
An affirmative defense to charges of being drunk and disorderly is that you were not actually behaving in a drunken manner in public. You may claim your loud behavior was due to enthusiasm over a promotion or excitement that your team won a sports contest. The burden of proving this defense remains on the person accused of the crime.
Public Intoxication is Not a Crime Where You Were Cited
Some communities do not have laws against public intoxication. States like Nevada, Montana, and Missouri do not criminalize being drunk in public. The city of Milwaukee allows people to be drunk in public, although other municipalities in Wisconsin outlaw public drunkenness.
You Were Cited for Public Intoxication While in a Private Place
Being convicted of public drunkenness charge requires that you are in public. If you are not in public, then an essential element of the offense is missing. If a police officer orders you to come out into a public place and then cites you for public intoxication, you may be able to raise this defense.
Public Intoxication Law Charges: Your Legal Rights
If you or a loved one are facing public intoxication or drunk and disorderly charges, you have a right to defend yourself and fight the charges in court. Some of the legal factors that a public intoxication defense attorney can review with you include:
- Whether you or your loved ones, given the particular facts of your case, actually violated city or state law;
- Whether the arresting police or law enforcement officer followed the law; and
- Whether your conduct did, or did not, constitute a criminal violation.
Get Professional Legal Help with Your Public Intoxication Charge
Public intoxication and DUI convictions don't typically result in a long jail sentence, but the damage to your reputation can be difficult to mend and can haunt you for years to come. The assistance of a qualified criminal defense attorney can help in eliminating or minimizing the impact of these charges on your life. Find a local criminal defense attorney today.