Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Idaho’s public intoxication law, but other alcohol-related issues may also apply to your case. For example, if you are at a party and have too much to drink and end up getting angry and hitting someone, you might also face assault charges. Or, if you leave the party and try to drive yourself home, you can be arrested for drunk driving (also known as “driving under the influence” or "driving while intoxicated”).
What is Public Intoxication?
In Idaho, public intoxication includes appearing in a public place, including roadways, or on private property open to the public, while under the influence of alcohol or specified controlled substances (unless administered by a licensed physician for medical purposes).
Additional charges apply if the defendant causes personal or property damage while in an intoxicated state.
(Id. Code Ann. § 37-2732C.)
A person who appears to be intoxicated and in need of help may, if he consents to being helped, be assisted to his home, an approved health or treatment facility, or to a city or county jail to be kept under protective custody until he is no longer intoxicated.
Being taken to a treatment facility or into protective custody is not an arrest, and the intoxicated person may not be detained for more than 24 hours (unless he consents to further voluntary treatment at a treatment facility). People taken into protective custody have the right to immediately be given the option to request or take a chemical test. If the person is found not to be intoxicated, they must immediately be released.
(Id. Code Ann. § 39-307A.)
Public Intoxication Penalties
Public intoxication is a misdemeanor in Idaho. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both.
A third or subsequent offense within five years incurs a minimum jail sentence of 120 days (and up to one year). However, at the judge’s discretion, the court may reduce this sentence if the defendant agrees to complete a licensed drug rehabilitation treatment program.
Increased penalties apply if the defendant possessed a firearm while under the influence of certain drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin.
Potential Defenses to Public Intoxication Charges
There are several potential defenses to public intoxication charges in Idaho. 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.
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 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. It is especially important to seek legal help in Idaho when you are facing a third or subsequent alcohol-related charge, because the penalties increase significantly under these circumstances. An experienced attorney can help you understand the charges against you, explain your options, discuss possible defenses you may raise, and protect your rights.