Public Intoxication — why drinking and not driving isn’t always safe: Everyone knows that drinking and driving is a terrible idea. Still, there are about 1.5 million arrests for drunk driving every single year. 29 people die every day from drunk driving crashes. Odds are, you will somehow be involved in a drunk driving accident, either as a driver or as a victim, in your life.
You would think those sobering statistics would encourage everyone to leave the keys at home. But even that isn’t a guarantee you’ll stay out of trouble. Getting behind the wheel is a no-go if you’ve had more than a drink or if you are otherwise intoxicated. We all know that. But the simple act of being intoxicated in public can land you in jail.
What is Public Intoxication?
Public intoxication is hardly anything new. It was fodder for sitcoms years ago. Public drunks were jailed then, too.
According to LegalMatch.com, here is the legal standard (you must match all three to be suspected of public intoxication):
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
If you can hold it together in public, odds are you’re okay, but even that’s no guarantee. While one law enforcement officer might see someone who’s holding it together, another might see someone who is slurring their words or walking a little funny.
“Intoxicated” Definition: Not The Same in Every State
The legal definition of public intoxication changes from state to state, but the legal limits are typically identical to intoxicated driving limits. For example, if it’s illegal to get behind the wheel with a drug alcohol level of .08 percent, it’s illegal to wander around in public, even on foot, at that level.
Before receiving a Breathalyzer or a blood test, there are the more subjective standards that make you a suspect in the first place. Los Angeles based criminal defense attorney Diana Aizman describes what police look for this way:
They’re looking for a few things. One is if you’re just unable to take care of yourself, if you’re obviously stumbling or having trouble maintaining control of your faculties. I’ve had clients who have been arrested for just sitting on the curb and looking like they’re about to pass out or have passed out. That’s something that they will probably arrest you for. And then the other thing is if you’re just belligerent, loud, obnoxious, in people’s faces, in the police officer’s face. Basically, if you’re posing a danger to yourself or to anyone around you and you’re unable to care of yourself in a reasonable fashion, a police officer has the discretion to arrest you for being drunk in public.
What Public Intoxication Looks Like (Videos)
Here’s one person who got in trouble for walking a little strangely. Holding a cup probably didn’t help his case.
This man was pretty clearly on something.
Even celebrities, like country singer Randy Travis, can be busted for public intoxication.
This hilarious video might not be so funny to the publicly intoxicated stars:
What are the Penalties Fines for Public Intoxication – Can You Go to Jail?
The consequences of public intoxication can be so much more than embarrassing videos. Although with cell phones and body cams, that’s a real concern. Those who choose not to get behind a wheel may actually have a tougher time in court than those who do. A police officer only needs to believe you are intoxicated to arrest you for public intoxication.
Fortunately, though, public intoxication is still a much lesser charge than driving under the influence. Public intoxication is a misdemeanor. You could see a fine and a jail sentence of up to a year. Most first offenders will probably see a fine. Repeat offenders may see longer jail terms and perhaps court-mandated rehab.
Things can be worse for those who are under the legal drinking age of 21. A judge may throw the book at the minor and she might hold the parents accountable if the defendant is under 18.
Can Public Intoxication Ruin My Life?
While the consequences of public intoxication are certainly better than those for DUIs, even a misdemeanor can ruin a person’s life. It takes an understanding employer to give days to months off so an employee can sit in jail. A public intoxication conviction can go on a permanent record, making it difficult to find new jobs or even places to live.
Most employers conduct background checks, and if an employer sees you were convicted of a crime—misdemeanor or not—they will likely be much more hesitant to hire you. It is already hard enough to get a job these days without having a criminal history. With all other things being equal between you and another candidate, do you think the employer will choose the person with a criminal record or the one with a clean record? To learn more about the career implications of a misdemeanor conviction, click here to check out our previous blog on the subject.
Source: Greg McCollum
How Much Will Public Intoxication Cost Me?
Public intoxication laws vary tremendously from state to state. Missouri’s laws, for example, only forbid drunkenness in public in schools, churches and courthouses.
Not surprisingly, in Nevada, you can drink almost anywhere. In Wisconsin, even minors can drink, if accompanied by a parent, guardian or spouse who’s over 21. In fact, there are only 23 states that have public intoxication laws.
That doesn’t mean that if you live in one of the other 27 states, you won’t get in trouble. Disorderly conduct is a common charge for intoxicated people. Even in states that technically allow public intoxication, there might be municipal laws forbidding it. Many states prefer to help an intoxicated person get home safely rather than go the punitive route.
If you do live in a state that punishes the publicly intoxicated, the fine could be around $1,000. You might also see a short stint in jail. Since state and local laws vary so much, many defendants choose to hire an attorney, which can cost thousands. Don’t forget you can also lose your job and have trouble finding another.
How to Get Out of a Public Intoxication Charge
The best way out of a public intoxication charge is: Don’t get intoxicated and go out in public. If you can provide witnesses or proof that you weren’t drinking, show the judge. Some medical conditions and medications can mimic intoxication. Perhaps you have an injured leg which causes you to walk a little strangely. Maybe you just went to the dentist, which caused you to slur your words.
If you were in a private place, like a bar or someone’s home, you cannot be cited for public intoxication. Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t cite you for other charges related to your public intoxication. If the arresting officer lured you outside so he could ticket you, that may be an effective defense.
You should also review the state and municipal laws from where the arrest occurred. They can be so confusing sometimes, that even police have trouble keeping track.
How to Avoid Public Intoxication Charges
The best way to avoid public intoxication charges, is obviously, not to be publicly intoxicated. We understand, though, that people sometimes imbibe a little too heavily. If you are at a party or in a bar, call a car service or arrange a ride.
Featured image CC by 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons