Massachusetts Public Intoxication Laws

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Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Massachusetts’ 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. 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 Massachusetts, public intoxication is treated as a social ill, but not a crime. A police officer may assist an intoxicated person (with or without consent) to the person’s home, a health care facility, or to a police station for protective custody.

An intoxicated person taken to a health facility or a police station must be informed of his right to take a breathalyzer test, and to make one phone call (at the intoxicated person’s own expense). Protective custody is not an arrest, and the intoxicated person may be kept at a police station onlyif a suitable treatment facility is not available and until he “sobers up” (or for up to 12 hours, whichever is shorter).

(Ma. Gen. Laws Ann., Title XVI, Chap. 11B § 8.)

Public Intoxication Penalties

In Massachusetts, public intoxication is not considered a crime, but you may be taken into protective custody, as described above. And other charges (such as for property damage or drunk driving) may still apply to your case.

Potential Defenses to Being Held in Protective Custody

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

Not intoxicated. You may argue that you are not intoxicated. You will 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 in a private 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, such as drunk driving or assault, 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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