What is Public Intoxication?

Inmost states that punish public intoxication as a criminal offense, there are several elements, or factors, that must be proved by the prosecution in order to convict a person of the offense. These include the following.

Appearing in a public place

Public intoxication laws require that the defendant be in a public place, rather than a private residence or other area that is not open to the general public. Examples of public places include sidewalks, streets, stadiums, and parks. In some states, bars and restaurants are considered public places because they are open to the general public. Additionally, some state public intoxication laws punish intoxication that occurs in areas where the defendant is on private property but without the permission of the owner, even though these areas are technically “private.” For example, creating a disturbance while trespassing on another persons lawn may be the basis for a public intoxication charge.

Being under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, a controlled substance or other intoxicant

Many public intoxication laws require that the defendant be under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, a controlled substance, or other intoxicant (including inhalants such as paint thinner or glue). People whose behavior is traceable to the influence of a prescribed medication are not guilty of public intoxication.

How the prosecution proves that one or a combination of the substances mentioned above accounts for the defendant’s apparent intoxication is another matter, however. States rarely require proof by means of a chemical test, such as a blood alcohol test. Instead, the testimony of the arresting officer and any others present as to how the defendant behaved and appeared can be sufficient to enable the jury to conclude that the defendant was intoxicated. Some states do not even require that defendants actually be intoxicated; rather, that they only appear to be.

Causing disturbance or harm to other persons or property or presenting a danger to oneself

Most public intoxication laws require that the defendant created some kind of disturbance, such as injuring other persons or harming property, or posing a threat to his own safety. This element exists to prevent law enforcement officers from arresting someone who has had some alcohol, but is not creating a problem. However, in most states, the definition of “disturbance” is very broad-some states include actions such as blocking sidewalks or using offensive language. Further, if an officer believes that a persons intoxication is posing a threat to that person’s own safety, he may be taken into custody and charged with this offense.

filed under: DUI