In Alabama, a person may commit the crime of public intoxication in a number of ways. Although a conviction for public intoxication can result in only a short jail sentence, a conviction should not be taken lightly because it can result in the loss of a employment or difficulty in getting a job. Depending on the circumstances, a defendant may avoid a guilty verdict by raising one or more defenses available under the law.
Alabama defines the offense of public intoxication as appearing in a public place while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But merely appearing to be under the influence is not itself a crime; people charged with this crime must be
- acting in a way that endangers themselves, another individual, or property, or
- annoying another person by behaving in a boisterous or offensive manner.
Alabama classifies public intoxication as a “violation.” Violations carry a maximum jail sentence of 30 days and fine of no more than $200.
(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-7, 13A-5-12, 13A-11-10)
In the context of the crime of public intoxication, Alabama defines “public place” as a place to which the public or a substantial group of people has access. The following places are examples of public places:
- transportation facilities
- amusement places
- playgrounds, and
- common areas of apartment buildings, such as hallways, lobbies, and other areas not designed for residence.
This list of public places is not exhaustive. For example, the state’s courts have interpreted “public place” to include a car parked near a public thoroughfare that was open to public view.
(Atchley v. State, 393 So. 2d 1034 (Ala. Crim. App. 1981); § 1:23. Public intoxication, Alabama DUI Handbook § 1:23)
In addition to the examples of public places, the statute states that no private dwelling, and no place used for a private gathering, is considered a public place with respect to a person who has been invited to such place. For example, people attending a private party held in a room reserved at a restaurant that is otherwise open to the public would not be guilty of public intoxication even if they are drunk and acting boisterously, because the room is being used for a private gathering open only to invitees. However, a drunk person who leaves the party and mistakenly enters a nearby home, cursing at the home’s occupants, may be charged with other crimes such as trespass.
(Ala. Code § 13A-11-1)
Merely being drunk or under the influence of drugs while in a public place does not violate Alabama’s public intoxication law. Common defenses include the following:
No endangerment. In order to be guilty of public intoxication, an intoxicated person in a public place must be putting his or her welfare or the welfare of another person or property in danger. For example, the “quiet drunk” who simply falls asleep on his stool may not be chargeable under this statute.
No boisterous, annoying behavior. To be guilty of this offense, the jury must conclude that the defendant bothered others to the degree described by the statute. For example, a defendant may admit to having been drunk at a baseball game, but challenge the prosecutor’s claim of public intoxication by introducing witnesses who sat near the defendant throughout the game but did not observe any boisterous or obnoxious behavior.
No intent to break the law. People who voluntarily become drunk, and those who take drugs in order to become high, are the people targeted by public intoxication laws. Those who involuntarily consume too much liquor (whose drinks have been spiked, for example), or who act as they do as the result of the legal consumption of a prescription drug, have not violated the law. For example, a defendant may concede to stumbling into a busy street and nearly causing a traffic accident, but contest the public intoxication charge by presenting evidence that this dangerous behavior was due to the effects of a prescribed drug as opposed to intoxication. To learn more, see Can I be charged with public intoxication if I was under the influence of a prescription drug?
Not a public place. Similarly, if a prosecutor fails to prove that a defendant who was behaving in a dangerous, boisterous, or offensive manner was drunk in a public place, then the defendant is entitled to a not guilty verdict. For example, a drunk person acting offensively at a friend’s dinner party would not be guilty of public intoxication because the person is in a private home by invitation.
For example, a defendant may concede to stumbling into a busy street and nearly causing a traffic accident but contest the public intoxication charge by presenting evidence that this dangerous behavior was due to a medical condition as opposed to intoxication
Or, a defendant may admit to having been drunk at a baseball game but challenge the prosecutor’s claim of public intoxication by introducing witnesses who sat near the defendant throughout the game but did not observe any boisterous or obnoxious behavior.
Consult An Attorney
If you are charged with public intoxication in Alabama, you should speak with an attorney. Although public intoxication is a relatively minor offense compared to misdemeanors and felonies, a conviction can result in being sentenced to jail. An experienced lawyer will review your case and advise you of your options for resolving it. An attorney will protect your rights as well as present evidence in your defense should you choose to go to trial.