Iowa Public Intoxication Laws

Learn about Iowa's laws and penalties for public intoxication.

By , J.D. · UC Law San Francisco
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 4/20/2023

Laws punishing public intoxication vary widely among states. This article discusses Iowa's public intoxication penalties, alternatives to arrest, and defenses.

Is Public Intoxication a Crime in Iowa?

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).)

What Are the Penalties for Public Intoxication in Iowa?

A person convicted of public intoxication is guilty of a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $105 to $850.

Treatment in Lieu of Arrest

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.

Emergency Protective Custody

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).)

Good Samaritan Immunity From Prosecution: Alcohol Overdose

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).)

Get Legal Help for Public Intoxication Charges

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.

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