Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Florida'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, 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.
In Florida, it is illegal for someone to consume alcohol in public. It is also a crime to be intoxicated in a public place to the degree that the person may endanger himself, other people, or property. And you may not drink on a public conveyance (like a bus) and cause a disturbance.
(Fl. Stat. Ann. § 856.011.)
In lieu of arrest for public intoxication, a police officer may elect to drop you at your home to "sober up," or to take you to an appropriate health facility for detoxification or treatment.
Public intoxication or alcohol consumption is a second degree misdemeanor in Florida. Penalties include a fine of up to $250, up to 90 days in jail, or both.
In addition to the penalties above, if you are convicted of public intoxication three times in a 12 month period, you may be committed to a treatment or rehabilitation facility for up to 60 days.
There are several potential defenses to public intoxication charges in Florida. 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.
No harm, no foul. A defendant may also introduce evidence to show that he was not engaging in disorderly conduct. For example, witnesses may be called to show that the defendant was not bothering anyone or anything.
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. This is especially important if you have already been convicted for alcohol-related offenses, as the applicable penalties may increase. An experienced attorney can help you understand the charges against you, explain your options, discuss possible defenses you may raise, and protect your rights.