Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Indiana’s public intoxication law, but other alcohol-related issues may also apply to your case. For example, someone at a bar who has too much to drink, gets angry, and hits someone might also face assault charges. If that person leaves the bar and tries to drive, the driver can be arrested for drunk driving.
To learn about your state's laws on other alcohol related crimes, start with Crimes and Penalties by State.
In Indiana, it is illegal to be intoxicated (by drugs or alcohol) in a public place if you are creating a disturbance that endangers your own or someone else’s life; breaches the peace (or threatens to do so); or harasses, annoys, or alarms other people.
(In. Ann. Code § 7.1-5-1-3.)
Public alcohol consumption is a misdemeanor in Indiana. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both.
If the intoxicated person is unmanageable or causing personal or property damage, the arresting police officer may take the intoxicated person to the county jail or “lock-up.”
Alternately, if the intoxicated person is manageable and not being destructive, the officer may issue a citation—which is like a traffic ticket, carrying a fine, but no jail time. In this case, the officer may take the intoxicated person to the person’s or a relative or friend’s home, or to a treatment facility.
If these options are not available (or unreasonable under the circumstances, such as when the intoxicated person lives far from the place of citation), the officer may leave the intoxicated person in the city or county jail until the person is no longer under the influence.
(In. Ann. Code § 12-23-15-1.)
There are several potential defenses to public intoxication charges in Indiana. Most of these focus on showing that there is little or no evidence to support one or more of the elements of the offense, as explained above. Some common examples are explained below.
Not intoxicated. A defendant may argue that he was not intoxicated at the time of the arrest. But because juries and judges tend to believe the testimony of the arresting officer, this defense can be hard to substantiate unless the defendant has concrete evidence (such as a blood alcohol test) showing that he was not intoxicated.
No harm, no foul. A defendant may also introduce evidence to show that he was not engaging in disorderly conduct. For example, witnesses may be called to show that the defendant was not bothering anyone or anything.
Not a public place. Another potential defense is showing that the arrest was not made in a public place, or that the defendant was involuntarily in a public place at the time of arrest. For example, a defendant may not be ordered out of his home by a law enforcement officer and onto the sidewalk, and then arrested for public intoxication.
Prescription medication. Finally, defendants may argue that at the time of the arrest, they were under the influence of a medication taken as directed while under the care of a licensed physician. For example, if the defendant was under the influence of "laughing gas" from a recent dental procedure, he may have a valid defense.
If you are charged with violating a public intoxication law, even if the consequences are relatively mild, consider consulting with a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with how these cases are handled in your area. An experienced attorney can help you understand the charges against you, explain your options, discuss possible defenses you may raise, and protect your rights.