Being intoxicated in public can lead to your arrest in Texas if you are a danger to yourself or others. Learn how Texas defines and penalizes public intoxication.
It's not a crime to simply be intoxicated in a public place in Texas. But, as soon as intoxication makes someone a danger to themself or others, they can be arrested for a misdemeanor.
Texas defines "intoxication" as:
A person who is drunk or smells of alcohol doesn't meet this definition. Generally, an officer must show more, such as the person passed out or the person is slurring their speech and stumbling. Someone being rowdy, loud, and uncooperative might also signal intoxication.
Texas defines public place broadly. It's any place that members of the public can access, including bars, restaurants, public streets, and even the common areas of schools, hospitals, office buildings, and apartment buildings.
Under Texas law, it's enough that an intoxicated person may present a potential danger to themself or others—a Texas prosecutor doesn't have to prove that the person presented an immediate danger. The assessment of potential danger is left largely to the discretion of the arresting police officer. If the officer suspects you'll try to hop into a car and drive, or the officer doesn't think you can walk home safely, that risk is generally enough to show you might endanger yourself or others.
(Tex. Penal Code § 49.02 (2022).)
Under Texas law, public intoxication is a class C misdemeanor and carries the possible penalty of a fine of not more than $500—no jail time. (Tex. Penal Code § 12.23.)
While jail time isn't a possibility upon conviction, the arresting officer can make the person sit in jail and sober up if they still pose a danger to themself or others. Instead of jail, the officer may release the person to a responsible adult or detox center. In the case of a detox center, the person must agree to treatment and the facility must be licensed and accept the person for treatment. (Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art. 14.031 (2022).)
While getting a ticket for public intoxication might not seem like a big deal, an arrest or drunken behavior can lead to more serious problems.
When officers arrest you, they can conduct a search incident to arrest. In one Texas case, the intoxicated defendant ended up with drug charges because the officer found cocaine in his pocket during a search.
Drunken behavior could also land you with additional charges. If you're underage, you could end up with a ticket for minor consumption. Starting a fight in a bar could lead to assault charges. And if you stumble to your car and start the ignition, those facts can be enough to support a DUI charge for "operating" a vehicle while intoxicated.
Although a conviction of public intoxication is a relatively minor crime in Texas, any conviction goes on one's record and is potentially available to employers, insurers, and others. If you are charged with any crime or have questions about criminal law, consult a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.