Washington Public Intoxication Laws

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Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Washington’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, leaves the bar and tries to drive but backs into a store front, will face charges for drunk driving and property damage in addition to public intoxication. Other laws apply to being under the influence of illegal drugs.

To learn about your state's laws on other alcohol related crimes, start with Crimes and Penalties by State.

What is Public Intoxication?

In Washington, public intoxication is treated as a social ill, not a crime. However it is a misdemeanor to drink on a public conveyance (such as a bus) unless you are in a compartment, like a train’s food car, where alcohol is legally sold and served.

(Wa. Rev. Code Ann. § 70.96A.190.)

Protective Custody

Someone who appears to be incapacitated in a public place may be taken into protective custody (with or without the person’s consent), and kept there for up to eight hours until the police can transfer the person to an appropriate service program or emergency medical service facility.

The intoxicated person may receive medical treatment, counseling, and be encouraged to voluntarily take part in further treatment. If the person is not admitted to detoxification or a treatment program, the treatment program may take the person home. People who have no home will be assisted in accessing available community shelter resources.

(Wa. Rev. Code Ann. § 70.96A.190.)

Public Intoxication Penalties

In Washington, public intoxication is not considered a crime (unless you are drinking on a public conveyance), but you may be taken into protective custody or be admitted to a rehabilitation program, as described above. And other charges (such as for property damage or drunk driving) may also apply to your case.

It is a misdemeanor to drink on a public conveyance. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to 90 days in jail, or both.

Potential Defenses to Being Held in Protective Custody

There are two potential defenses to being held in protective custody for public intoxication in Washington.

Not intoxicated. You may argue that you are not intoxicated. You will most likely need to take and pass a breathalyzer test in custody to prove this.

Not a public place. Another potential defense is showing that while you are intoxicated, it was not in a public place, or that you were involuntarily in a public place at the time that the police officer took you into custody. For example, you may not be ordered out of your home by a law enforcement officer and onto the sidewalk, and then taken into custody for public intoxication.

Get Legal Help for Public Intoxication

If you are charged with violating a law relating to public intoxication, 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.

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