North Carolina Public Intoxication Laws

Merely being intoxicated in public is not a crime in North Carolina. However it is a crime to be drunk and disorderly in public.

For more information on public intoxication laws generally, see Public Intoxication Laws and Penalties.

Although public intoxication is not a crime, it still has consequences. A person who is intoxicated in a public place may be taken into protective custody.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-447.)

Also, people in North Carolina who are intoxicated in public and drive under the influence (DUI) or commit other crimes may be prosecuted and convicted for those crimes.

Public Place

Under North Carolina's laws, any place that is open to the public is a public place, even if it is privately owned.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-443.)

For example, roads and sidewalks are public places, as are stores and restaurants.

Protective Custody

A police officer may take (or direct) a person who is intoxicated in public to the person's home or to another responsible person's residence.

If the person is in need of food, housing, or clothing, but not medical attention, then the officer may take the person to a shelter or to the local jail if no other facility can take the person. Police may not take a person who is publicly intoxicated to jail unless the person needs assistance.

If the person is in need of medical attention, the officer may take the person to a hospital, doctor's office, or other medical facility. If the person is a substance abuser and poses a danger to him or herself or others, the officer may seek to have the person civilly committed.

A person taken into protective custody is not under arrest, but the officer may use reasonable force if necessary to protect the person, the officer, or others. A person can be held in protective custody until sober or for 24 hours.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § § 14-447, 122C-301, 122C-303.)

For example, if a person on the street was drunk, but not in need of food, clothing, or shelter, a police officer could not take the person to jail. The officer could take the person home or to another person's residence.

Drunk and Disorderly

In North Carolina, a person commits the crime of being drunk and disorderly by being under the influence of alcohol in any public place and being disruptive by:

  • interfering with or blocking traffic
  • interfering with or blocking use of the sidewalk or a building's entrance
  • fighting or challenging others to fight
  • cursing, shouting, or insulting others, or
  • panhandling or begging.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-444.)

If a police officer arrests a person for being drunk and disorderly and determines that the person would benefit from protective custody, the officer can transport the person to a shelter or medical facility and issue a citation.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-447.)

For example, both an intoxicated bar patron who was yelling obscenities at other customers and a homeless person who was sleeping off a drinking binge on a public sidewalk could be convicted of being drunk and disorderly.

Alcoholism Defense

Under North Carolina's laws, it is a defense to a charge of being drunk and disorderly that the defendant is an alcoholic.

The court is required to consider the defense even if the defendant does not raise it and may order an alcohol treatment counselor to review the defendant's drinking history.

If the defendant is acquitted because of alcoholism, the court may determine if the defendant should be civilly committed as a substance abuser.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § § 14-443, 14-445. 14-446, 122C-281, 122C-283.)


Being drunk and disorderly is a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $200 and one to ten days in jail if it is the defendant's first offense. If the defendant has prior convictions, being drunk and disorderly is punishable by up to 20 days in jail.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § § 14-444, 15A-1340.23.)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with being drunk or disorderly, you should contact a North Carolina criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and prepare the strongest defense so that you can obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

Talk to a Lawyer

Start here to find criminal defense lawyers near you.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you

Talk to a Defense attorney

We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you