Laws and ordinances at the state and local levels, which vary by area, make public intoxication a crime. A person commits the crime of public intoxication if he appears in a public place under the influence of alcohol, narcotics or other drug to the degree that he endangers himself or another person or property, or by boisterous and offensive conduct annoys another person in his vicinity. A person may commit the offense of public intoxication by being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This may include prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or even aerosol sprays. It is a defense to prosecution for public intoxication that the alcohol or drugs were administered for therapeutic purposes and as part of the person's professional medical treatment by a licensed physician.
The charge of public intoxication requires that the person be intoxicated to the degree that he/she is a danger to him/herself or another person. Being publicly intoxicated makes a person vulnerable to robbery, assault, and a number of other difficulties. The offense is usually a misdemeanor for which a person may be jailed for a short period of time or issued a citation and fine. A person arrested for public intoxication may need to post bail, given as security for their later court appearance,before being released from jail.
Laws on public intoxication vary by jurisdiction. Some laws provide for the offender to be taken to an alcohol treatment center, medical facilty, or their home, rather than jail. If the person is jailed, it is usually for a period after which they are no longer considered to be a harm to themselves and others (the time necessary for them to "sober up"). This period will vary by jurisdiction, degree of intoxication, and other factors.
Public intoxication is generally not defined by a blood alcohol content level, but rather by the harmful or disruptive behavior of a person who is intoxicated. This is distinguished from state laws which govern driving while intoxicated (DUI/DWI). Such state DUI/DWI laws define a blood alcohol content level necessary to prove legal intoxication. The setting of a legal definition of intoxication through blood alcohol content arises out of due process concerns because of the seriousness of the penalties which may apply. A state's legal intoxication standard also affects eligibility for certain federal funding.
The following is an example of a local ordinance dealing with public intoxication:
- Public intoxication.
- (a) A person commits the crime of public intoxication if he appears in a public place under the influence of alcohol, narcotics or other drug to the degree that he endangers himself or another person or property, or by boisterous and offensive conduct annoys another person in his vicinity.
- (b) Public intoxication is a violation.