Arkansas Public Intoxication Laws

Arkansas state law prohibits public intoxication and drinking in public. Both offenses are treated as crimes that carry possible jail time and fines. Defendants charged with these crimes may raise one or more defenses to the charges.

Public Intoxication & Drinking In Public

A person commits the offense of public intoxication by appearing in a public place under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance to the extent that:

  • the person is likely to endanger another person or self or property, or
  • the person unreasonably annoys another person in the vicinity.

A person commits the offense of drinking in public if the person drinks any alcoholic beverage:

  • in any public place
  • while on any highway or street
  • in any vehicle commonly used for the transportation of passengers, or
  • in or about any depot, platform, waiting room, or other public place.

The offense of drinking in public does not apply to persons drinking in bars or other places licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises. The prohibitions contained in the public intoxication and drinking in public statute do not apply to alcohol consumed as part of recognized religious ceremonies. Therefore a person who drinks sacramental wine during a church service’s communion does not risk being charged with drinking in public.

Both public intoxication and drinking in public are Class C misdemeanors. Class C misdemeanors carry a possible maximum fine of $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

(Ark. Code §§ 5-4-201, 5-4-401, 5-71-212)

Possible Defenses

A person charged with public intoxication may assert one or more defenses to the charge. Defenses available to a defendant often depend largely on the facts of the case. For example, a defendant who argues that the intoxication did not occur in a public place may succeed in winning an acquittal if the facts at trial show that defendant was drunk at a friend’s backyard cookout. The same argument is unlikely to succeed where the facts show that the defendant was drunk on the patio of a restaurant that is open to the public. Failure by the prosecutor to prove that an intoxicated defendant was in a public place (or one of the places described in the public drinking law) entitles a defendant to a not guilty verdict, whether the charge is public intoxication or drinking in public.

A defendant may also challenge a prosecution for public intoxication by admitting being drunk while in a public place but denying that the level of intoxication was such that the defendant presented a likely danger to him or herself or to another person or property. A defendant charged with public intoxication based on annoying another person can challenge the charge by arguing that the other person was not within the defendant’s vicinity, or that although drunk, the defendant did not behave in an unreasonable manner that would justify the other’s person’s annoyance.

Intoxicated Persons & Law Enforcement Duties

In Arkansas, law enforcement officers are required by law to arrest an individual found to be a drunken, insane, or disorderly person at large, unless the individual is in the care of a competent person. In other words, an officer must arrest an intoxicated person who appears alone in public, but the law does not require the officer to make the arrest if the intoxicated person has a sober companion. While the presence of a sober companion relieves the officer of the duty to arrest a person drunk in public, the officer may still choose to make an arrest if sufficient evidence of public intoxication or drinking in public exists.

(Ark. Code § 12-11-110)

Contact An Attorney

If you are charged in Arkansas with public intoxication or drinking in public, you should speak with an attorney. Although both offenses are Class C misdemeanors, a conviction carries the possibility of a fine and jail time. An experienced attorney will evaluate your case and discuss possible defenses to the charge or charges. An attorney is essential to mounting an effective defense, and an attorney will zealously protect your rights throughout the process.

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