We have all heard the term public intoxication, but what does it really mean? If you are not drunk behind the wheel and do not hurt anyone, how bad can having a few drinks too many be? If you are imagining a comically drunk person weaving back and forth across a sidewalk, you are off the mark. The fact is that the police issue far more public intoxication charges than you may realize, and the charge is all too real. The goal is to keep your record as clean as you possibly can – at all times – and this includes avoiding public intoxication charges. If you have been hit with a charge of public intoxication, it is time to consult with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney.
College Students and Young Revelers Beware
While there is nothing about age or a proclivity for fun in the Texas statute that addresses public intoxication, college students and other young people who have a taste for good times often find themselves on the wrong end of public intoxication charges. Consider the following example, you’ve had a drink or two too many – and since you Ubered for this very reason – you head out on foot from the first bar of the evening to your next meetup spot with your friends. So far, you are making good choices and showing considerable restraint.
When that friendly police officer, however, sees you walking out of one bar and in the direction of another of an evening, he or she may make a snap decision that you are likely over the limit and that you may be up to no good generally. And he or she may watch you carefully for signs that are indicative of public intoxication. In other words, you do not necessarily have to engage in any dramatic shenanigans to be slapped with a public intoxication charge.
The statute in question states that a person commits an offense if the person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another. If the police decide that you may proceed to jaywalk (for example) and to, thus, endanger yourself if they do not charge you, a charge of public intoxication could be forthcoming. In other words, the bar is quite low.
Determining whether or not you are a danger to yourself or others by simply looking at you while you wander down the street is a difficult task, but – because the police tend to think they know best – they may be inclined to take creative liberties in the matter by issuing citations and asking questions later. If you are a young person (or anyone) who enjoys a bit of bar hopping and is too responsible to drink and drive, it is important to watch your step (in terms of public intoxication charges). If you are under the legal drinking age, the charge is similar to any other underage drinking offense (and the consequences you face are more considerable).
The Charge of Intoxication
The intoxication aspect of the charge is the same as it is for any other alcohol-related charge and includes either (or both) the following:
Someone whom alcohol has left without the normal use of his or her physical and/or mental faculties
Someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent
The one about not having the normal use of one’s faculties can be pretty straightforward (if the person in question is in an obviously drunk state that leaves everyone concerned, for example), but it can also be incredibly subjective and allows officers incredible leeway when it comes to making public intoxication charges.
A Public Place
When it comes to the public place part of your charge, it can mean an establishment that serves alcohol, but any of the following will also suffice:
Streets and sidewalks
Public events, such as concerts
Facilities for public transportation
Hospitals and healthcare clinics
To put a finer point on the matter, if you are anywhere other than in your own home, the police likely have the right to issue a public intoxication ticket (if the other specifics apply).
The Penalties You Face
If you are charged with public intoxication, it is a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable with a fine of up to $500, but there can be a lot more to it than that. To begin, the police can choose to take you to jail (for your own safety or for the safety of others). Another option, however, is releasing you to a licensed treatment facility for alcohol dependency (if you request that they do so and there is a facility that will accept you). You can also be released if the officer who tickets you deems that there is no danger involved, which begs the question regarding whether or not the ticket was appropriate in the first place.
If you are underage, you can expect more harsh consequences (due to the state’s zero-tolerance policy on underage drinking), including:
A fine of up to $500
From 8 to 12 hours of community service
A 30-day driver’s license suspension
Alcohol awareness class
The primary question most people facing public intoxication charges have is whether or not it will land on their record, and the answer is that yes, it will (if you are ultimately convicted of the charge). It is important to note that simply paying your ticket amounts to an admission of guilt, which means that fighting the charge may be in your best interest.
Class C misdemeanor tickets such as those for public intoxication are handled a bit differently than more serious charges are. Because they typically do not go on a statewide database, the consequences of having one on your record are a little less consequential. If, however, you fail to show up for your court appearance and/or to pay the associated fine, the court can issue a bench warrant that will show up if you are stopped by the police anywhere in the state – for any reason.
If you do show up for court or simply pay your fine from the get-go, the charge will be on your record in the court where the charge was filed, and it can be found (if the person looking is willing to do some digging). Generally, having a charge of public intoxication on your record is not something that is going to do you any favors in terms of job opportunities and/or your reputation overall. Further, a conviction for public intoxication can dim your shine and cause you to lose faith in yourself. You should not take a public intoxication charge lying down.
If you have been charged with public intoxication, you owe it to yourself to bring your strongest defense.
You Were Not a Danger to Yourself or Others
If you were not engaging in any kind of obvious activity that gave the officer a reason to believe you were a danger to yourself or others, this is likely your best defense strategy. Whistling a happy tune and being a bit jovial after a drink or two is not uncommon, and while it may tip the ticketing officer off to the fact that you are feeling happy, it certainly does not mean that you are drunk or that you are suddenly going to engage in a dangerous activity of any kind. Police officers do not have crystal balls, and they should not proceed as if they do.
You Were Not Intoxicated
Just because you drank a beer while you watched the game and happened to leave the bar with a group of intoxicated patrons does not mean that you yourself were intoxicated. Guilt by association is not part of the deal. Many, many people leave bars on foot that are not intoxicated, and you may happen to be one of them. Further, being a bit boisterous about the game’s outcome is not a sure sign that you are under the influence. It is not uncommon to get excited over a game – without being drunk or dangerous.
You Were Not in a Public Place
This one is a bit more difficult to prove – because the law takes considerable liberties with the matter. If you were not at home – or were not at the home of a friend (who took no issue with your behavior), you were probably in a public place.
Keeping a public intoxication charge off your record is worth the effort.
Disposing of Public Intoxication Charges
If the charge of public intoxication lands on your record, there are things you can do to counteract it. For example, if you are placed on deferred adjudication in relation to the charge, you have the right to apply for the record’s expungement, which means that the charge will be removed from your record and sealed (making it unavailable for most purposes). There is, however, a time restriction. You must wait at least 180 days from the date you received the citation, but the wait can coincide with your deferred adjudication, which means that very little wait is likely to be involved.
If you receive deferred adjudication in lieu of a conviction and a fine, community service will be imposed. If it is your first offense, you will face from 8 to 12 hours of community service, but if you have a previous conviction, the mandatory amount rises to at least 20 hours of community service and no more than 40 hours. The community service itself must relate to education that pertains to alcohol abuse or to the prevention of alcohol abuse, and if there are no applicable openings available, the court can choose an alternative that it deems appropriate.
Some courts offer what they call informal probation or informal deferral, which means that the judge or the prosecutor in question will impose specific terms, such as performing a stint of community service (as described above) and completing an alcohol education class. A deadline will be set by which you will need to fulfill the requirements set forth, and at that time, your case will be tried. If you have lived up to your end of the bargain and submitted the relevant documentation to the court, your charge will be dismissed. If you fail to do so, you will be required to make an appearance before the court and to either request a trial or plead guilty to the public intoxication charge at hand.
A Note about Simply Paying the Ticket
It is worth taking a moment to focus on what it means to simply pay for your ticket. You may think that you have no option other than paying the ticket – after all, it could seem like more of a nuisance than anything else (and ticking it off your To-Do list might feel like a relief). As mentioned, however, paying your ticket has the same effect as going before the court and admitting your guilt. Once you take this route, you will have no recourse – an expungement is no longer an option. The charge will go on your record, and if you are not yet 21, your driver’s license will be suspended.
You Need an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney on Your Side
If you are facing a public intoxication charge, do not ignore the issue and pay it off in an effort to be done with it. You have legal rights that are worth defending, and your record matters. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a formidable criminal defense attorney who takes every charge seriously and has the experience and keen legal insight to help. Our dedicated legal team is on your side, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 to learn more about what we can do for you today.