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Public intoxication encompasses intoxication due to either alcohol or drugs (or both). The intention of these laws is to protect the safety of the intoxicated person as well as society's safe use of public spaces.
Not all states prohibit public intoxication. Some states forbid it only if the accused also engaged in some type of disruptive behavior. In states without public intoxication laws, law enforcement may detain the intoxicated person in a local jail to "sleep it off."
What is Public Intoxication?
Most states with public intoxication laws require the defendant to either appear or seem to be drunk or intoxicated and in a public place. Some states also require proof that you either posed a threat to others' safety or were unable to care for yourself. Even if you were not intoxicated, you may face charges. The appearance of intoxication is the only requirement of the charge.
The "public" component of the charge is not clearly defined. The court determines whether the location is public.
Laws Regarding Public Intoxication
Sometimes called "drunk and disorderly conduct," public intoxication laws vary from state to state, beginning with the fact that some states have no laws forbidding public intoxication. The states that do forbid it often take a different approach to public intoxication. In some, it is viewed as harmful to society and is punished as a crime, usually as a misdemeanor. Other states view it as a possible indicator of a medical condition to be treated rather than punished. In these states, courts are not involved. Instead, the individual either enters a treatment facility or is detained in a jail cell until the intoxication wears off.
In other states, no public intoxication laws exist, though localities such as cities or counties may pass public intoxication laws. However, even states without public intoxication laws may arrest you if you commit a criminal act while intoxicated, such as fighting or destroying property. States without public intoxication laws may also regulate it through disorderly conduct laws.
What Are The Penalties For Public Intoxication?
Penalties depend on whether a state classifies public intoxication as a crime or a medical condition.
Most states that criminalize public intoxication classify it as a misdemeanor. Punishments include jail time, fines, probation, and community service. In general, misdemeanor convictions carry a maximum sentence in a local jail of 12 months. More common sentences last between 30 and 90 days. Fines typically max out at $1,000.
The most common punishment for misdemeanors is probation, typically in six-month increments. If you receive probation, you must fulfill certain requirements. These include regular appointments with a probation officer, employment requirements, informing law enforcement that you are under probation if asked or detained, and possibly undergoing drug or alcohol counseling. Failing to meet the requirements of your probation may result in jail time.
It is a misdemeanor in California, but punishment is only meted out if your intoxication is due to illegal drugs. If intoxication is due alcohol, you go to a "sobering facility" for a maximum of 72 hours and do not face criminal charges. In Indiana, a first offense conviction carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and $1,000 in fines.
States classifying public intoxication as a condition do not criminalize it. In Alaska, defendants accused of public intoxication are placed in a treatment facility. Other states simply take the accused back to his or her own home. Altneratively, detention until the person becomes sober may occur, without arrest or earning a criminal record.
The majority of states do not have public intoxication laws. However, they do have drunk and disorderly laws, or laws against disorderly conduct. Public intoxication is often prosecuted under one of these laws. Additionally, you may face charges based on illegal acts committed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Typically, it is this behavior that attracts the attention of law enforcement to begin with. Fighting, vandalism, and destruction of private or public property are the most common violations.
Punishments for these infractions vary greatly. Not only due to variations in state laws, but individual circumstances do as well. A criminal defense attorney will advise you.