Public intoxication is a type of alcohol crime also known as public drunkenness. It involves being intoxicated in a public place, even if other people are not present. Even if a person is of legal age to consume alcohol, they can be charged with public intoxication.
“Intoxication” may include being under the influence of alcohol as well as drugs. For most states, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for both DUI and public intoxication is 0.08%. State laws may vary regarding the specific details of where a person can or cannot drink alcohol publicly.

What are the Elements of Public Intoxication?

To be guilty of public intoxication, the following elements have to be met:

  1. You appear to be or are drunk or intoxicated
  2. You are in a public place
  3. You do not have control over yourself or present a threat to others

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

Contrary to popular belief, public intoxication is a serious offense and usually results in misdemeanor charges rather than a traffic citation. Many people confuse public drunkenness with disorderly conduct, which usually results in a citation. Misdemeanor charges for public intoxication may result in a criminal fines and/or a sentence in a county jail for no greater than one year.

Note that repeat offenses for public intoxication can make the criminal consequence more severe with each repeat offense. For example, some jurisdictions increase the criminal fines and length of jail sentence for second or third convictions. If the judge deems it necessary, they may also prescribe rehabilitative measures such as alcohol abuse counseling. There may be defenses to public intoxication depending on the circumstances surrounding the case.

What is Public Intoxication by a Minor?

Public intoxication by a minor occurs when a person under the legal age for drinking (usually 21 years old) is found intoxicated in a public place. This type of violation can often be treated more strictly due to zero tolerance policies for alcohol and minors.

In addition, public intoxication by a minor can even make the parents liable for the child’s violation, especially if the parents knew about the activity and didn’t take steps to prevent it, or if they actually encouraged the activity.

Criminal records for minors are generally sealed once they reach the age of majority. However, public intoxication charges can still have very negative consequences on the minor. For example, they may face difficulties when applying for employment or other programs.

What are the Possible Legal Consequences of Public Intoxication?

There are several possible consequences that come from a charge of public intoxication. They can range from:

  • Citations;
  • Fines;
  • Imprisonment;
  • Parole/Probation; and/or
  • Offense on a permanent criminal record.

What are the Defenses to Public Intoxication Charges?

Talk to a lawyer about specific public intoxication defenses that you may be able use. There are some common public drunkenness defenses a person can use:

  • The police officer wrongfully cited the person a private, not public, area
  • Police mistook a person’s disorderly conduct as drunkenness
  • Police told the person to go to a public place and then cited them for public intoxication after they merely followed the instruction
  • Public intoxication is not a crime in the city or state you are in

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Public Intoxication Charges?

Public intoxication laws may be very different from state to state. Even within one city, zoning laws may dictate how alcohol can be consumed in one area versus another. If you are charged with public intoxication, a criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights and legal defenses, and guide you through the process.