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How Serious Is a Public Intoxication Charge?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Being arrested and charged for public intoxication, while not as serious as a DUI charge, can still have severe consequences. Depending on the state or locality, the charge for being drunk in public can be a misdemeanor or even simply an infraction, like a speeding ticket. But, unlike a speeding ticket, a public intoxication charge can result in being arrested and taken into custody by the police.

Typically, a first or second offense will not have severe consequences, unless a person already has a criminal history, or is being charged with many other drunken crimes. However, the facts surrounding the arrest might convince a judge to require some alternative penalties, such as requiring a drug or alcohol treatment program.

Penalties for being convicted of public intoxication will generally include fines and/or community service, and repeat offenders may have to spend a few days behind bars. Depending on the state and locality, the penalties may be harsher or more lenient.

Why Is Public Intoxication a Crime?

Very few people would dispute that their judgment is impaired when they are intoxicated. As such, when a person is intoxicated in public, the concern is that they will act in way that endangers not only their own safety, but the safety of others. In many jurisdictions, the crime is actually called drunk and disorderly conduct. In order to allow law enforcement to effectively perform their duties of keeping the public safe from people who are acting disorderly in public, the threshold for public intoxication is deliberately low.

Defending a Public Intoxication Charge

In order to be convicted of public intoxication, it must be proven that a person either was, or appeared to be, drunk, or under the influence of drugs, while in public (or in the public's view). Additionally, some jurisdictions also require that the person be intoxicated to the point where they either pose a danger to the public or themselves.

When defending charges, a person can generally try to prove that they weren't drunk or under the influence, and only appeared to be due to innocent reasons. Another way to defeat the charges is by proving a person wasn't actually in public. Additionally, like other criminal charges, a person can try to prove that the arresting/citing officer did not have probable cause to make the stop.

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