Public Intoxication Laws: What you need to know
Public intoxication law is the name of a group of laws that regulates public displays of drunkenness. No federal law exists to regulate public intoxication; each state determines its own laws. Thus, public intoxication laws vary widely from state to state. Basically, public intoxication laws make it illegal for someone to be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol to the point where they are a danger to themselves or others or if they behave in a way that is boisterous or offensive.
The offense is usually a misdemeanor for which a person may be jailed for a short period of time or issued a citation and fine. A person arrested for public intoxication may need to post bail, given as security for their later court appearance, before being released from jail. Usually, breaking public intoxication laws is a minor offense, but if a person is arrested several times for this offense, they may be ordered to attend drug and alcohol treatment.
In some states, if you violate public intoxication laws but commit no other crime, the law allows you to be taken into civil protective custody if a “sobering facility” is available. Basically, you agree to remain at the location until the facility’s staff consents to your departure. Usually these facilities are jail cells, and are known in common terms as a “drunk tank.” Even though you are put in a jail cell, you are not formally arrested, and no charges are filed as long as you stay until you sober up. If you are combative or belligerent, they will arrest you and charge you with a crime.
In Iowa, it is even illegal to simulate intoxication in a public place. You can be arrested even if you are not intoxicated; you are just pretending to be. You can get up to 30 days jail time for a first offense. The third time you are arrested for either being intoxicated or pretending to be intoxicated in a public place, you could be jailed for up to two years!
Unlike driving under the influence, public intoxication is usually not determined by blood alcohol content (BAC) but on harmful or disruptive behavior while intoxicated. Most public intoxication laws do not require evidence beyond an officer’s belief that the suspect is dangerous. For this reason, public intoxication laws are somewhat controversial. Critics complain that the law is too vague and allows police too much discretion over whether a suspect is intoxicated. Also, because of the wide scope of the laws, police may charge someone who is under the influence, regardless of whether or not they are endangering anyone or being boisterous.
Even though the charge is usually minor, repeated violation of public intoxication laws may indicate that you have a problem with drugs and alcohol. Continuing to drink or use drugs despite negative consequences (like being arrested for public intoxication) is a sign of drug and alcohol addiction. If you are planning on a night of hard drinking, make sure you are aware of the public intoxication laws in your state!