What You Need to Know about Public Intoxication in Texas

alcohol, keys, and a Texas police car, symbols of the public intoxication charge

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If you head out for a night on the town and decide not to get behind the wheel while intoxicated, you may still face criminal charges. In certain situations, you could face public intoxication charges. However, there is a line between minding your own business after hoisting several drinks and the charge of public intoxication, and understanding the distinction is a good idea.

If you are facing a public intoxication charge – or any criminal charge – seeking the skilled legal guidance of an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney is an important first step.

When Being Drunk in Public Becomes a Crime

While it is not illegal to be intoxicated in and of itself, it is illegal to be drunk in public when your condition makes you a danger to yourself or others. If you are simply walking home from a night out, are minding your own business, and are not in danger of falling over or darting into traffic, you are generally on the right side of the law.

If, on the other hand, your actions in public attract the attention of the authorities to the degree they are concerned about your safety or the safety of those around you, it can lead to a criminal charge.

Public Places

Public places in this context are more inclusive than you may realize and include all the following locations:

  • Sidewalks and other walkways

  • Streets, roads, and highways

  • Bars, restaurants, and other commercial entities

  • Hospitals and other medical facilities

  • Public events

  • Public transportation

  • Parking lots

  • Apartment buildings

  • Porches

Even if you are simply walking from the bar or restaurant to your rideshare, you are fair game for the charge of public intoxication if the police believe that you put yourself or others at risk.

A Danger to Yourself or Others

There are no clear guidelines for determining if you are a danger to yourself or others. Instead, this determination is left to the discretion of the police.

If you are intoxicated but are sitting quietly on a bench waiting for the bus to pick you up, the police would have a difficult time classifying you as a danger to anyone. If, however, you’re stumbling around near the street, an officer will likely consider you a danger to yourself.

Further, harassing other people can also be interpreted as a risk factor because it can easily evolve into a fight.

The Charge of Public Intoxication

If you are charged with public intoxication, it is a Class C misdemeanor. While a conviction does not lead to jail time, there is a $500 fine, and the charge will leave a stain on your permanent record.

If the public intoxication charge is not your first, it can be elevated to a Class B misdemeanor, which comes with fines of up to $2,000 and a jail sentence of up to 180 days.

Finally, if you are underage, you’ll face the same fines and penalties, but your driver’s license can also be suspended, and you may face both mandatory enrollment in an alcohol education class and mandatory community service.

These consequences can become serious very quickly, so it is essential to have a skilled Killeen criminal defense lawyer on your side to protect your rights and give your case the best chance of a positive outcome.

The Arrest

If an officer determines that you qualify for the charge of public intoxication, you can expect all the following outcomes:

  • You will be arrested on the charge.

  • You will be taken to the local police station, where you will be fingerprinted, subjected to a mugshot, and booked.

  • If you’re determined to be seriously intoxicated, you may be kept in jail until you have sobered up to the degree that you are no longer a danger to yourself or anyone else.

  • You will be assigned a court date and released from jail.

Inebriated vs. Intoxicated

The State of Texas does not distinguish between inebriation and intoxication. Instead, Texas laws focus on intoxication. Intoxication is the term that is generally used for impairment by either alcohol or drugs, while the term inebriation is generally reserved for drunkenness. Both, however, convey the idea that the person in question is under the influence of a substance.

When it comes to limitations associated with driving, Texas – and nearly every other state – implements a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08 percent, and testing over this limit while driving can lead to a DWI charge.

It’s important to note, however, that you don’t have to exceed this legal limit in order to face charges – if alcohol has affected your ability to drive safely, you can be slapped with a driving under the influence charge regardless of how much alcohol is in your system.

Consult with a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with either driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence.

Charges that Often Accompany Public Intoxication Charges

Sometimes, the police are just getting started when they bring out public intoxication charges, and there are a host of additional charges that can also apply.

Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct can include a wide range of conduct that people are more likely to engage in when they are intoxicated. Common examples include all of the following behaviors:

  • Being unreasonably noisy

  • Using abusive or vulgar language or using offensive gestures in a manner that threatens to breach the peace

  • Threatening others offensively

  • Engaging in fights or physical altercations

  • Exposing oneself

Any of the above can lead to a Class C misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, which comes with up to $500 in fines. However, if the charge involves displaying or discharging a deadly weapon, such as a knife or gun, in a manner that is meant to alarm others, it can lead to a Class B misdemeanor charge with fines of up to $2,000 and a sentence of up to 180 days in jail.


The charge of harassment can apply when the accused is deemed to have intentionally annoyed, embarrassed, or alarmed someone else. This charge extends to the actions that those who are intoxicated may be prone to, including these behaviors:

  • Using obscenities to communicate

  • Threatening to inflict injury upon someone else

  • Threatening to damage someone else’s property

  • Calling or texting someone repeatedly

Generally, the charge of harassment is a Class B misdemeanor.

Obstructing a Road or Passageway

It is a Class B misdemeanor to block a sidewalk, aisle, hallway, building entrance or exit, road, or highway. A person who, in the course of their intoxication, falls asleep or passes out and obstructs the movement of others in any of these ways can face the charge of obstructing a road or passageway in addition to the charge of public intoxication.

Open Container

It is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the driver or passenger area of a vehicle, and the charge can apply to the person behind the wheel, to a passenger or passengers, or to everyone in the vehicle. It’s important to note that the vehicle doesn’t have to be in operation at the time for the charge to apply. Open container charges are Class C misdemeanors.

You Don’t Have to Test over the Limit to Be Charged with Public Intoxication

Your BAC level matters for DWI charges, but not for public intoxication charges. If you are stopped for a DWI, your BAC will be tested. If you’re over the limit, you can expect charges to apply. However, this isn’t how it works with public intoxication charges.

The police don’t have to prove that you are over the legal limit to charge and convict you of public intoxication. Instead, the police only need subjective evidence that you are likely intoxicated, which translates to having probable cause. Common examples include the following indicators:

  • Alcohol on your breath

  • Bloodshot eyes

  • Slurred speech

  • An uneven gait

In other words, being hit with a public intoxication charge is a lot easier than you may realize. As such, it is always a good idea to have a skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney in your corner.

The Charge Is Overly Broad

Many consider the charge of public intoxication overly broad because it is often levied against people who are doing the right thing –┬ánot drinking and driving.

For example, if your designated driver is arrested for a minor infraction and you draw attention to yourself in the process, the police could potentially charge you with public intoxication. If the officer asks you to get out of the car – you are now an intoxicated person on a public road, which is covered by the public intoxication charge.

In fact, it is not uncommon for the police to be out in force around closing time in popular night spots. The idea is to make sweeping arrests for public intoxication with the least amount of effort possible.

It’s Just a Fine

Too many people who are charged with public intoxication want to simply put the matter behind them by paying the fine and moving on. While it’s true that a first offense is a Class C misdemeanor that comes with a fine of up to $500 and no jail time, there is a lot more to it than this.

When you pay the fine, you admit guilt in the matter, which means you’ll have a criminal charge on your permanent record – unless you’re able to have it removed, which is a challenging and often costly process on its own.

The fact is that criminal convictions are a matter of public record, and they can lead to surprisingly negative consequences, including all the following outcomes:

  • Decreased social standing

  • Fewer job opportunities

  • Difficulty renting a home or obtaining a home loan

  • Problems with professional licensure

  • Inability to obtain a federal student loan

Never underestimate how negatively a misdemeanor can affect your future. Instead, work closely with a knowledgeable Killeen criminal defense attorney to help you protect your future and your reputation.

Having a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney on Your Side

While there is nothing stopping you from fighting a public intoxication charge on your own, doing so puts you at a significant disadvantage. With a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney in your corner, you can expect all the following support throughout your case:

  • Careful guidance throughout the legal process – helping to ensure you don’t fall victim to the many common pitfalls

  • Skilled negotiations with the prosecution, which – in a best-case scenario – can lead to your charges being dropped or resolved in a manner that keeps the arrest and charge off your record

  • Fierce advocacy for your legal rights and a favorable case resolution

The time to invoke your right to remain silent is as soon as you’re arrested, and this is also the right time to actually remain silent – other than letting the arresting officers know that you want an attorney.

Deferred Disposition

Every public intoxication case is unique to the circumstances involved, which makes having skilled legal guidance that focuses on your specific situation key. If having your public intoxication charge dropped isn’t a possibility, a deferred disposition may be.

When you take a deferred disposition, you are required to plead guilty – or no contest, which means the state has enough evidence to convict you although you don’t admit guilt – to the charge of public intoxication.

During your deferment, you’ll be required to complete the terms and conditions imposed by the court. Once you’ve accomplished this, your case will be closed administratively, and it may be eligible for expunction. Expunction clears the charge from your record.

The risk with a deferred disposition is failing to live up to the imposed terms and conditions. When this happens, a public intoxication probation revocation can apply, which can lead to serious fines and a conviction that stays on your record.

Seek the Legal Guidance of an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – a distinguished Texas criminal defense group in Killeen – is an accomplished criminal defense attorney with a proven track record for helping clients like you resolve their criminal charges favorably.

Even a misdemeanor can pack a considerable legal punch, so please don’t put off reaching out and contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 for more information about what we can do to help you today.

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