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Is Public Intoxication a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

Updated on July 6, 2012

Public drunkenness—or, public intoxication, as it is more formally known—refers to the crime of being intoxicated in a public place. It does not just refer to alcohol; you can be accused of public intoxication if you are under the influence of prescription or illegal drugs, as well. It also does not matter if you are over the age of 21: anyone can be cited for public drunkenness.

What can you do if you have been accused, or are in danger of being accused, of public drunkenness?

Is it a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

Public intoxication falls under each state's individual jurisdiction; there are no nation-wide laws regulating whether you can be drunk in public.You will have to check the local laws to determine whether it is considered a felony or a misdemeanor in the state in which you receive your citation—although in most cases it is a misdemeanor.

The general difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is this: misdemeanors are considered less-serious crimes. While felonies can involve juries and be punishable by over a year in prison, misdemeanors at worst result in jail time of less than a year, or just a citation. Misdemeanors do go on your criminal record, but they do not generally affect your ability to serve on a jury, or to vote. If you receive a citation, you may have to go to court and either accept the citation, or present your case to a judge.

The general process of receiving a citation typically involves one of the following:

  • You receive a citation and are escorted home.
  • You receive a citation and are released to a guardian or other responsible party.
  • You are taken to jail or a detoxification center, where you may be required to post bail prior to release.

What is My Best Defense?

Since public drunkenness laws are treated on a state-by-state basis, it again depends on where you received your citation. If you were in a state where there are no public intoxication laws in effect, your best defense may be to politely point this out to the officer or judge.

Otherwise, there are a variety of other tactics you can take:

  • You can claim that you were not, in fact, actually drunk. Perhaps you were just overly excited, or enthusiastic; fans at sporting events, for example, can often appear much more intoxicated than they actually are—if they indeed are even intoxicated at all—due to their sheer excitement over the big game.

  • You could also claim that you were not, in fact, in a public area. It is oftentimes difficult to ascertain the technical difference between a "public" place and a "private" place. Not even police officers can always tell. (Also note that you cannot be ordered by a police officer into a public place so that they can then issue the citation to you.)

  • In some states, the prosecution must also prove that you were not only impaired in a public place, but that you were also posing an endangerment to yourself, others, or the property around you. If they are unable to reasonably do so, then they will find it difficult to build a solid case against you.

Of course, your best course of action is to speak with a lawyer; they are trained to deal with situations such as this. They have experience in working on cases such as this. They will be much better posed to assess your individual situation, and offer legal advice accordingly. Still, with these helpful tips, you should be pointed in the right direction. Good luck.


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    • Ramone Griffin profile image

      Ramone Griffin 

      4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      I live in Dallas Texas I was sitting in my car with an open beer in my friends parking lot. I had my music up a little loud and someone called the police. Well the police came and said that he smelled alcohol on me and that he was writing me a ticket for public intoxication and to go up to my friends house for a while before driving, he said that I didn't have to pay anything for the ticket I just had to go to court. So can I beat the public intoxication charge when I go to court.


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