Arizona Public Intoxication Laws: Drunk in Public

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Arizona law does not contain criminal or civil penalties for a person found to be drunk in public. Instead, under certain circumstances, a publicly intoxicated person may be taken into protective custody and transported to a treatment center or even jail if a local treatment center is not available.

Intoxication & Incapacitation

Arizona defines an intoxicated person as someone whose mental or physical functioning is substantially impaired by the immediate effects of alcohol. A person incapacitated by alcohol is unconscious, or whose judgment is so impaired that the individual is unable to make a decision regarding the need for evaluation or treatment, unable to take care of basic needs or safety, or lacks the ability to make or communicate personal rational decisions.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 36-2021)

Public Intoxication & Limits on Local Lawmaking

Arizona state law prohibits a county, municipality, or other political subdivision from passing or enforcing any law, resolution, or rule that imposes a civil or criminal penalty for being a common drunkard or for being found intoxicated. This prohibition does not prevent the political subdivisions from passing laws that carry penalties for operating cars, boats, or machinery while intoxicated; nor does it prohibit political subdivisions from passing laws pertaining to the sale, purchase, possession, or use of alcoholic drinks at specified times or places or by certain classes of people.

In other words, a city may not pass an ordinance that imposes a $100 fine for being drunk in a city park, but it may impose jail time and a fine for driving drunk or possession of alcohol by a person under 21 years of age.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 36-2031)

Treatment Facilities, Detention Centers, & Protective Custody

Arizona law addresses the emergency admission of intoxicated persons to treatment facilities. A peace officer or any other individual may bring a publicly intoxicated person to an approved local alcoholism reception center if the person:

  • has threatened, inflicted, or attempted to inflict physical harm on the self or upon others unless admitted for treatment, and
  • is incapacitated by alcohol

An alcoholism reception center conducts an initial evaluation and arranges further evaluation or treatment.

A peace officer may also bring a person believed to be intoxicated in public to a local alcoholism reception center if the person is or may be a danger to self or others. In doing so, the officer may use onlythe minimum restraint necessary to transport the person to the center. The alcoholism reception center is similarly prohibited from using unnecessary or unreasonable force.

Release From Alcoholism Reception Centers & Detention Facilities

A person admitted to an alcoholism reception center must be discharged from the center within 24 hours of requesting to be discharged, or upon determination by the center administrator that the grounds for admission no longer exist.

Alternatively, the individual may be transported to a detention facility such as a jail if no alcoholism reception center is located within 10 miles (or if the local center is filled to capacity); the city, town, or county has temporarily approved the detention facility for such purpose; and no responsible person is available to assist the person suspected of being intoxicated.

An intoxicated person admitted to a detention facility may be held in protective custody until no longer intoxicated, until released to a responsible person, or after being held for 12 hours, whichever occurs first. A person held in protective custody is not considered to be under arrest.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 36-2026, 36-2031)

When To Consult An Attorney

Although Arizona law does not civilly or criminally punish people who are drunk in public, public drunkenness may cross into legal liability for an individual when that person engages in illegal behavior such as drunk driving or underage possession of alcohol. If you are accused of a crime involving intoxication, you should speak with an attorney. An attorney experienced in handling such matters can evaluate your case and explore possible defenses. Having an attorney is critical to protecting your rights while navigating what are often complex issues in a case.

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