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Public Intoxication… Not So Black And White

Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by DALA Guest Author

Unlike the legal limit for drinking and driving, the line between public intoxication and sobriety is a lot blurrier than most people realize, both for the offenders and law enforcement.

First of all, there is no legal limit for public intoxication. The limitations for operating a vehicle after drinking are concise: anything above .08 will put you behind bars. There isn’t room for negotiation, primarily because anything higher is putting yourself and others at serious risk.

Public intoxication is a little different. It’s harder to determine whether someone is intoxicated or just extremely enthusiastic or excited, what is considered “public,” and whether or not the person is capable of taking care of his or herself.

Rules for Public Intoxication Citations and Arrests

The rules, while vague, state a person must:

  • be drunk or appear drunk based off behavior
  • be in public at the time of citation or arrest

That’s it; those are the rules. Of course, if every person were arrested based off appearing drunk in public, America’s jail cells would be unnecessarily overflowing with young adults. For this reason, officers must use their best judgement to determine what is and is not a threat. Often, some implications a person is too drunk to take care of his or herself include:

  • Leaving the bar with boisterous behavior
  • Excessive swearing
  • Slurring words to the point of not being understood
  • Swaying while walking

Potential Legal Defenses

If you are charged with public intoxication, it is crucial to contact a DUI lawyer who can represent you. They will run through the facts of your case and determine whether they have potential legal defenses to benefit your case, which may include:

  • You were not drunk, nor were you acting drunk.
    You may have displayed rather high energy when leaving the bar due to an exciting end to a game, or even received a phone call that your brother got engaged. Whatever the cause for your burst of energy, you may have a defense if you can prove you were not drunk when leaving the bar. However, it is important to note that the burden of proof lies in the hands of the defendant.
  • Public intoxication is not a crime in the city or state in which you were cited.
    For example, Milwaukees has no laws set in place for public intoxication, while other cities in Wisconsin do. If this was the situation, you could use this defense to win your case. States without a public intoxication law include Nevada, Missouri and Montana.
  • You were cited in a public location.
    The odds of this defense working are smaller, simply because the “public” aspect of the citation is being violated. However, in some defendants’ cases, they were intoxicated in their own homes when an officer came to the door, asking them to come outside when they wrote the citation. If this happened to you, you may be able to raise a defense.

Contact a DUI attorney so you can immediately determine whether or not you actually violated a law, given all the facts, and whether the officer followed all laws as well.

Lindsay Bradshaw is a content developer for The Kyle Law Firm in New Braunfels, Texas. She thinks it is important to understand your rights and defenses if you are arrested under public intoxication.

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