Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Iowa's public intoxication penalties, alternatives to arrest, and defenses.
Yes, in Iowa, it is illegal to consume alcohol or be intoxicated in a public place (except on premises covered by a retail alcohol license), on public streets or highways, or on school property. 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. (Iowa Code § 123.46 (2022).)
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.
When a person suffering from a substance-related disorder is likely to cause harm to oneself or others, a police officer may, without a 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.
(Iowa Code §§ 123.46, 125.34, 125.91 (2022).)
An underage person (younger than 21) cannot be charged or prosecuted for public intoxication (or underage drinking) if they were in good faith seeking emergency help for alcohol poisoning. The person experiencing the overdose and the one reporting the overdose are both protected by this section. Reporters must remain on the scene and cooperate with police to receive immunity under this section. (Iowa Code § 701.12 (2022).)
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.