Defenses to Public Intoxication or Public Drunkenness

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 What is Public Intoxication?

Public intoxication is generally defined as a type of misdemeanor offense that occurs when a person is visibly intoxicated or drunk in a public location. This is why this crime is sometimes referred to as “public drunkenness”, “drunk in public”, and/or “drunk and disorderly”.

The variation of names also has to do with the fact that public intoxication law often changes based on the jurisdiction. In other words, the elements to prove this crime may be different in every state. This also means that the degree of the crime and penalties issued for a conviction may shift by state as well.

A person can still be charged with this crime, even if no one else is around to witness it (except for law enforcement of course). In fact, you do not even need to be intoxicated or drunk to be charged with public intoxication. The reason for this is because the purpose of public intoxication laws is to prevent individuals from causing harm to others, themselves, or in some cases, to public property.

On the other hand, just because you are drunk in public, does not necessarily mean you are going to be arrested and charged with public intoxication. Typically, you will only be charged with public intoxication if you are behaving in a manner that is harmful or disruptive to the public. Otherwise, it is not illegal to be drunk in public.

Thus, so long as you are behaving properly and are not posing a threat to others in a public place, you will not be charged for simply being intoxicated in public. Accordingly, if you believe you have been wrongfully charged with this offense, you should contact a local criminal lawyer immediately for further legal advice.

What are the Elements of Public Intoxication?

As previously mentioned, the elements of proof for a criminal public intoxication charge may vary based on the jurisdiction in which an individual is arrested. Generally speaking, however, the standard elements of public intoxication will entail similar factors as the ones listed below:

  • The individual was in a public location at the time the crime was committed;
  • The individual did not appear to have control over their actions and as such, posed a threat to others around or near them; and
  • The individual either was or appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or another controlled substance.

It is important to note that not every state requires proof of the second element. Thus, in such states, the prosecution will only need to prove that the individual appeared to be drunk or disorderly in a public location.

What is Public Intoxication Classified As – A Citation or a Misdemeanor?

The answer to this question is: it depends. Some jurisdictions classify this crime as a traffic citation, while others may treat the offense as a misdemeanor crime. For instance, in some states like Pennsylvania, a person who is cited for public intoxication may only receive a non-traffic citation, which is below the level of a misdemeanor crime.

In contrast, many other jurisdictions classify public intoxication as a misdemeanor offense, meaning that a person can receive up to a maximum of a $1,000 fine and/or may possibly have to spend up to one year in a county jail.

Additionally, it should be noted that if a person is repeatedly arrested and charged with public intoxication, they can expect to receive a more severe sentence each time they commit and are convicted of the crime.

For example, the majority of jurisdictions will increase the maximum amount of criminal fines that a defendant will be required to pay and/or may extend the length of their jail sentence. If a defendant is convicted enough times, they may even have to serve time in a state prison, which is much more serious than a county jail.

Is Public Intoxication a Felony?

While public intoxication is a criminal offense and thus should be taken seriously, it is not normally charged as a felony offense. However, it could become part of a case that results in felony level penalties if the surrounding circumstances warranted this type of punishment. For instance, some conduct that could lead to felony charges include:

  • Committing aggravated assault or battery while also being drunk in public;
  • Destroying federal or government property during a public intoxication incident; and
  • Driving while intoxicated, which leads to injuring another person with their vehicle.

What are the Possible Legal Consequences of Public Intoxication?

Some possible legal consequences of public intoxication can include:

  • A jail or prison sentence;
  • Criminal fees;
  • Parole or probation;
  • A permanent criminal record; and/or
  • Mandatory alcohol education courses.

In most instances, however, a person will usually only receive a public intoxication fine. The amount of a public intoxication fine can range from anywhere between $100 to up to $1,000. It is important to note that a person should not simply pay this fine to avoid having to appear in court. Once this fine is paid, they will lose the right to defend themselves against the charges since it is essentially pleading guilty.

Instead, a person who is facing charges of public intoxication should speak to a criminal lawyer immediately for further legal advice.

Are there any Defenses to Public Intoxication Charges?

The type of defense available for a public intoxication charge will largely depend on an individual’s case as well as the laws of their state. Some common examples of defenses that might be raise against a public intoxication charge include:

  • Proving that the defendant did not disrupt or cause harm to anyone else;
  • Demonstrating that the defendant was in a place that was considered to be a private venue;
  • Showing that law enforcement failed to follow the proper legal procedures during an arrest;
  • Proving that law enforcement arrested the wrong person; or
  • Showing that public intoxication is not considered a crime in the jurisdiction where the defendant was charged.

Can a Public Intoxication Charge be Dropped?

Although it might be difficult, it is possible to get public intoxication charges dropped. For example, if the defendant can prove any of the defenses mentioned in the above section, then they may be able to get their charges dropped, or at the very least, reduced.

A defendant who is charged with public intoxication should strongly consider hiring a criminal lawyer to help them get the charges dropped. For those wondering, does public intoxication go on your record? Yes, it does. Hence, why it is so important to hire a criminal lawyer to try and get public intoxication charges dropped.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Public Intoxication charges?

While it may not be necessary to hire a lawyer for public intoxication charges, there are many benefits to hiring a public intoxication defense attorney to defend you against such charges.

Some reasons that you may want to consider hiring this type of criminal lawyer include the following:

  • To find out if there is a way to get your charges dropped, and if so, to have someone who will advocate on your behalf by raising the appropriate legal defenses in court;
  • To provide general legal advice about your charges, the laws in your state, and the rights you have as a criminal defendant; and
  • To discuss your options with someone who is considered a legal expert on the subject and therefore is someone who can recommend your best course of action based on the facts of your case.

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