Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Virginia’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.
What is Public Intoxication?
In Virginia, it is illegal to be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol in public.
In lieu of arrest, a police officer may elect to assist you to an approved substance abuse treatment program, or (if you are incapacitated) to take you into protective custody. However, you may not be taken to or kept at a treatment facility without your consent.
And while neither treatment nor protective custody constitutes an arrest, you may still face charges for offenses you committed while intoxicated.
(Va. Ann. Code. § 18.2-388.)
Public Intoxication Penalties
In Virginia, public intoxication incurs a fine of up to $250. However, if you have been previously convicted of certain alcohol or drug-related crimes, you may face a fine of up to $2,500, up to a year in jail, or both.
Potential Defenses to Being Held in Protective Custody
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.
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.
Get Legal Help for Public Intoxication
If you are charged with public intoxication, or for violating a law relating to public intoxication, such as drunk driving or assault, consider consulting with a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with how these cases are handled in your area. This is especially important if you have previously been convicted of other alcohol or drug-related crimes, as the penalties increase significantly. An experienced attorney can help you understand the charges against you, explain your options, discuss possible defenses you may raise, and protect your rights.