What is Public Intoxication?

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 11/15/2021

Public intoxication is a crime that occurs when someone is noticeably Impaired from alcohol or other types of drugs. Most cities and states have their own laws pertaining to public intoxication but the consensus is that for someone to be publicly intoxicated their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) needs to be over .08%.

How Does Someone Become Publicly Intoxicated 

Someone becomes publicly intoxicated when their BAC reaches .08% in a public space. Most people don't get in trouble for public intoxication unless there is a catalyst. Catalysts include being aggressive, acting out against others, damaging property, and being unable to care for their safety or the safety of others.

What are the Basic Elements of a Public Intoxication Charge?

Most public intoxication charges have three basic elements that law enforcement persecutes. The three basic elements that need to be proved include:

  • Being under the influence of alcohol 

  • Causing a disturbance

  • Presence in a public place

We have more on these below.

1. Being Under the Influence of Alcohol 

Many states require law enforcement to establish that an individual was under influence. To do so, police officers tend to use breathalyzer devices to measure a person's BAC. If someone's BAC is over .08% then law enforcement has grounds to charge for public intoxication.

That said, most states also require additional evidence of drunkenness before charging someone with public intoxication. Furthermore, some states like Alabama can charge you for public intoxication if you appeared drunk and caused harm.

2. Causing a Disturbance Presence in a Public Space 

Causing disturbances in public spaces is where behavioral aspects of public intoxication come into play. When an individual has an aggressive demeanor they can be charged for public intoxication and in some states, like Florida, disorderly intoxication.

3. Presence in a Public Space

The last component of a public intoxication case is being in a public space. This is where things get tricky because each state has a different definition of what a public space is or isn't. For this component of the case, it tends to be left up to the court to decide.

What are the Laws According to Public Intoxication? 

Public intoxication laws vary widely based on jurisdiction. Public intoxication laws are implemented to prevent people from acting disorderly in public. Some states define public intoxication as being over the legal limit in a public space. That said, most jurisdictions will only issue a public intoxication charge if someone is acting disorderly and causing disturbances.

Still, some states and jurisdictions don't even have public intoxication laws. For example, being drunk in public is not illegal in New York. Instead, in New York, public intoxication laws apply to drugs. Therefore, it's important to understand the rules and regulations based on your jurisdiction.

Is Public Intoxication a Crime?

Yes, public intoxication is a crime. In most jurisdictions is a misdemeanor crime that can result in penalties up to $1,000 or a maximum of 30 days in jail. That said, most people won't be charged with public intoxication unless they're blocking public roads and pathways, being aggressive, or causing other disturbances. In fact, most states don't consider it a crime to just be drunk.

The public intoxication laws are in place because they keep people safe. People being drunk in public can lead to altercations, the damage of property, and a reduction in safety for everyone. Even when the laws were challenged by Powell V. Texas in the Supreme Court, the court upheld the law in federal court.

How Serious is a Public Intoxication Charge?

Public intoxication charges are not serious unless an individual becomes violent or uncooperative. Public intoxication charges begin as misdemeanor offenses with a maximum fine of $1,000 and maximum jail sentences of up to 30 days (this varies by state, some sentences are as much as 180 days). When people become violent or uncooperative public intoxication can progress to felony charges that result in higher penalties and more jail time.

Can a Public Intoxication Charge be Dropped?

Yes, public intoxication charges can be dropped if you work with a lawyer. While you can get public intoxication charges dropped without one, your chances of success increase when you have someone who knows the law at your side. To get the charges dropped you need to prove that you were not drunk and didn't act in a way that harmed anyone. Depending on the severity of your case working with a lawyer is a good idea.

What are the Relations Between Binge Drinking and Public Intoxication?

Binge drinking is when someone consumes a lot of alcohol over a short period. The amount consumed to classify it as binge drinking varies based on gender. For men, it's 5 drinks within 2 hours and for women, it's 4 drinks within 2 hours. While binge drinking is dangerous because it can cause rapid drunkenness and alcohol poisoning, it can also lead to public intoxication charges.

Binge drinking is often linked to public intoxication charges because you have to act belligerently in public to be charged for the crime. Binge drinking is one of the fastest ways to become intoxicated and lose control, which is why the link between binge drinking and public intoxication exists.

How to Treat Alcohol Abuse Disorder to Prevent Public Intoxication

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is one of the leading causes of public intoxication. AUD occurs when someone can no longer control the urge to drink. Symptoms of AUD also include a higher alcohol tolerance, drinking alone, and needing alcohol to have fun. People who suffer from the addiction are more likely to end up drunk in public, binge drink, and lose control in public spaces.

Treating AUD is one of the best ways to prevent yourself from getting a public intoxication charge. Some of the most common treatment methods include:

  • Inpatient Treatment: Residential clinics where patients are housed, fed, and kept on the premises. These can be luxurious and expensive options depending on where you go.

  • Outpatient Treatment: This consists of patients going to clinics in a set frequency each week or month. Treatment methods consist of therapy, detoxification with medications like Diazepam, and partial hospitalization.

  • Sober Living: Sober living programs give patients more freedom but also more responsibility. These programs teach values, life skills, and responsibility alongside alcohol treatment.

  • Detox: Detox is for severe cases of alcoholism that require medications to ease potentially life-threatening symptoms.

Once treatment is concluded it's important for recovering alcoholics to remain sober. Many people choose to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups. These groups give you a sponsor to monitor your behavior and a chance to speak about the addiction.

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Thomas Roth
Lead Editor

Thomas has been working in the substance abuse industry for over 3 years and he's made it his mission to help those in need. Tom started out by writing content to help people find addiction treatment centers near their location. Once he understood the value in the words he wrote Tom shifted to outreach, editing, and content creation. If nothing else, Tom wants to see those who struggle with Alcohol abuse disorder recover.