Public Intoxication and What It Means in Texas

Being drunk in public can get you arrested in Texas. Most of the time, acting a little boozy while walking down the street will not end up going to jail. However, the police can use public intoxication as a reason to stop an individual and look for evidence of other crimes.

Whether someone is “intoxicated” or not can be subjective. If you were arrested on suspicion of being intoxicated in public, challenging the arrest can mean avoiding a criminal record. Talk to an experienced Odessa criminal defense lawyer to understand your rights and defenses.

Texas Public Intoxication Law

Under Texas Code Section 49.02, “A person commits an offense if the person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.”

In order for the prosecution to prove an individual was guilty of public intoxication, they must show that the defendant was:

  1. in a public place,
  2. intoxicated, and
  3. to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.

Was the Defendant in a Public Place?

A public place can be anywhere the public or a substantial group of the public has access too. This can include:

  • streets
  • sidewalks,
  • parks,
  • common areas of schools,
  • hospitals,
  • apartments,
  • office buildings,
  • transport facilities,
  • stores,
  • parking lots, and
  • public events.

A public place can even include a bar or “a premises licensed or permitted under the Alcoholic Beverage Code.” That means a person could be arrested for public intoxication inside a bar. What is not considered a public place would generally include a private household.

For example, if a person was intoxicated at a friend's Super Bowl Party and neighbors complained to the police, the police may issue a warning or complaint about noise but they generally could not arrest someone for being drunk inside a private residence.

However, if a person was intoxicated at a bar over Memorial Day weekend, the police may be able to arrest the individual for public intoxication because a bar is a premise licensed under the Alcoholic Beverage Code (or it is accessible by a substantial group of the public).

What is Considered “Intoxication” in Texas?

Drinking a small amount of alcohol and acting belligerent does not necessarily mean the individual is “intoxicated” under the law. Intoxication means “not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body.”

What is a Danger to the Person or Another?

A danger to the person or another can be subjective. Generally, an intoxicated person sitting on a bench would not be considered dangerous. However, a person walking down the sidewalk and stumbling into the street could be considered to be in danger if they walked into traffic. Additionally, someone who is bumping into people or trying to start a fight could be considered a danger to others.

Penalties for Public Intoxication

Public intoxication is generally a Class C Misdemeanor. The penalty for a Class C Misdemeanor conviction is a fine of up to $500.

However, an arrest can still mean getting taken to the police station for fingerprinting, booking, and getting a mugshot. It can also mean sitting in jail for hours until the police believe the individual is sober enough to no longer be a danger to him or herself or others.

A criminal conviction for public intoxication can also be embarrassing, and most people would like to avoid a criminal record.

Defense to Public Intoxication Charges

Public intoxication can be very subjective. What the police believe to be intoxication to the extent that one is endangering others may not be considered endangering intoxication to the judge or jury. There are a number of possible defenses to public intoxication charges that can help you avoid a criminal conviction, including:

  • Defendant was not intoxicated,
  • Defendant was not in public, or
  • Defendant was not endangering themselves or others.

Odessa Drug and Alcohol Criminal Defense Lawyer

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you build a defense that gives you the best shot at a favorable outcome, including challenging the initial arrest.

If you've been charged with public intoxication or other drug or alcohol-related offenses in Odessa, Texas, the Law Office of E. Jason Leach, PLLC is here to fight for you. E. Jason Leach is a board-certified criminal defense attorney that has dedicated his law practice to defending the accused. To set up a free consultation contact the Law Office of E. Jason Leach today at (432) 552-7000.