Iowa Public Intoxication Laws

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Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Iowa’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.

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

What is Public Intoxication?

In Iowa, it is illegal to consume alcohol or be intoxicated in a public place (except in establishments licensed to serve alcohol). It is also a crime to “simulate intoxication”—take or be under the influence of controlled substances— in a public place.

An intoxicated person has the right to take a chemical test (such as a breathalyzer or blood test) at his own expense within two hours of being arrested.

In lieu of arrest, a police officer may offer to take a person suffering from a substance-related disorder to an appropriate facility for emergency treatment. The officer will not arrest the person for public intoxication if the person accepts help (unless the person has committed other offenses). The officer may arrest an intoxicated person who refuses help.

(Ia. Ann. Code § 125.34.)

Protective Custody

When a person suffering from a substance-related disorder is likely to cause harm to himself or others, a police officer may, without warrant, take that person into protective custody for up to one day, until the person to can be checked into an appropriate treatment facility. This is also known as “emergency detention,” and can lead to release once the person “sobers up,” or enters a treatment facility, at the magistrate’s discretion.

(Ia. Ann. Code § 125.91.)

Public Intoxication Penalties

Public intoxication or alcohol consumption is a simple misdemeanor in Iowa. Penalties include a fine of at least $65 (and up to $625), up to 30 days in jail, or both.

Potential Defenses to Public Intoxication Charges

There are several potential defenses to public intoxication charges in Iowa. 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. A defendant may also show 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. 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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