Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Georgia’s public intoxication law, but other alcohol-related issues may also apply to your case. For example, if you are at a bar 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 bar and try to drive yourself home, you can be arrested for drunk driving (also known as “driving under the influence” or "driving while intoxicated”). And other laws apply to being under the influence of illegal drugs.
In Georgia, public intoxication (or “public drunkenness”) means appearing in an intoxicated condition in a public place (or on private property without permission), and
“Private property” includes the land and buildings surrounding a private dwelling. This means that a defendant who, for example, stumbles into or passes out in someone’s back yard while drunk may be arrested for the crime of public drunkenness even though the person was not technically in public.
Additional charges apply if the defendant causes personal or property damage while in a drunken state. And counties and municipal corporations may pass additional laws to punish public drunkenness or disorderly conduct within their respective limits.
Public drunkenness is a misdemeanor in Georgia. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
Defendants may raise several defenses to public intoxication charges in Georgia. 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. Defendants are not entitled to blood alcohol tests when they are arrested (nor do officers have to administer them to substantiate the charge).
No harm, no foul. A defendant may also challenge the prosecution's evidence that is being offered to show that he was being boisterous, vulgar, profane, or loud, by questioning the witnesses or providing witnesses of his own. If the prosecution is claiming that the defendant was nude or performing an indecent act, the defendant may offer a similar challenge.
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.
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.