Under Texas law, it isn't illegal to be in a public space after having a beer or two. However, this can be considered a crime if a person's normal physical or mental faculties are altered, endangering themselves or others.
In this state, public intoxication is considered a Class C misdemeanor and is punishable by large fines or even a permanent criminal record.
What is Public Intoxication in Texas?
Under the Texas Penal Code Section §49.02, public intoxication is defined as the offense that a person commits by appearing in a "public place" while intoxicated to a degree that they may pose risks to themselves or other people.
According to this definition, "being intoxicated" is similar to a drinking and driving charge.
Public intoxication occurs when the consumption of a controlled substance, drug, alcohol, or the combination of two or more substances affects a person's mental or physical faculties.
This charge may also apply when someone has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit of 0.08%, and that person appears in a public place.
Underage Public Intoxication in Texas
The Penal Code Section §49.02 also says that a minor can be charged with public intoxication. If a person younger than 21 years old commits an offense under this section, that act is punishable according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code.
What is a Public Place?
To fully understand Texas public intoxication laws, it's crucial to define what a "public place" is.
Under state laws, a premises authorized or licensed to sell alcoholic beverages, such as a restaurant or bar, may be considered a public place.
Other Examples of Public Places
Any space people have access to also falls into this category. This may include roadways, hospitals, apartment or office buildings, shops, and schools, for example.
However, this list is non-exclusive. If the public or a substantial group of the public has access to a place, even if it's private property, that area may be considered a "public place" for the public intoxication law.
"Danger to Self or Others": What Does It Mean?
A police officer may arrest a person if they believe that individual poses a danger to themselves or others due to intoxication.
Arresting officers often use several criteria to determine whether a person puts their safety or someone else's in danger. However, these are the most common cases:
An individual is vulnerable to assault or robbery due to their intoxication.
Trying to drive home is dangerous because the driver is intoxicated.
Being intoxicated puts a person at risk of falling onto the road and being run over by a vehicle.
An individual is intoxicated to the point of being out of control.
Being intoxicated causes a person to start a fight.
In many cases, people aren't arrested for being actually intoxicated but because they have a bad attitude towards the officer.
That's why it's important to seek help from a skilled attorney who understands the public intoxication laws in Texas and can fight on their behalf to avoid conviction. They can also help answer questions like Is alcohol addiction a valid defense for DWI?
Potential Penalties for Public Intoxication
Texas law describes public intoxication arrest as a Class C misdemeanor for both people of legal drinking age and minors. However, there are a few important differences.
Penalties for Adults
Public intoxication carries a fine of up to $500 and the possibility of having a permanent criminal record. However, a police officer can release the intoxicated person to a licensed treatment facility for chemical dependency.
This alternative is only available if the person arrested for public intoxication requests it and is accepted by the licensed treatment facility.
Law enforcement officers can also release a person arrested for public intoxication if they believe it isn't necessary to protect that individual from themselves or prevent them from posing a risk to others.
What Happens If a Minor is Found to be Intoxicated in Public?
If a minor committed this offense, public intoxication isn't punishable in the same manner as a Class C misdemeanor for adults of legal age.
Texas has imposed a Zero Tolerance Law that makes the consequences or penalties for underage public intoxication more severe.
Possible Penalties for Underage Public Intoxication
In this regard, when a person commits this offense and is under the legal drinking age, public intoxication carries the following:
Fines of up to $500
Between eight and 12 hours of community service
30-day driver's license suspension
Alcohol awareness class
Pleading Guilty to Public Intoxication
Since most people arrested for public intoxication only have to pay a $500 fine, it may sound tempting to simply do it and just forget it ever happened. However, a conviction for this offense can have harsh consequences on people's lives.
Although it's a low-level Class C misdemeanor, pleading guilty to public intoxication can affect people's military acceptance, job opportunities, and college admission.
It's important to understand that a conviction for public intoxication cannot be removed from a person's criminal record. Therefore, those who have been arrested under Texas Penal Code Section §49.02 should contact an experienced attorney to build a solid defense.
Possible Defenses for Prosecution Under Texas Penal Code Section §49.02
Although defenses to prosecution for public intoxication may vary from case to case, a common one is that the substance is part of a person's professional medical treatment if it's administered for therapeutic purposes by a licensed physician.
Final Thoughts: Is It Necessary to Hire a Lawyer for a Public Intoxication Case?
Since it's a Class C misdemeanor, a public intoxication charge isn't likely to result in jail time. That's why many people simply pay for the fine and forget that this incident occurred. Unfortunately, this is a huge mistake.
Having a conviction for public intoxication can have lasting effects. Those arrested for this offense should contact a criminal law firm in Fort Worth before deciding to plead guilty or pay fines.
Seasoned attorneys can help people accused of public intoxication fight for their rights and build a solid defense to avoid or minimize penalties.
Contact Sparks Law Firm Today!
At Sparks Law Firm, we have extensive experience in public intoxication cases and understand the Texas legal system. Our experienced team knows how to challenge these accusations and is ready to help as many people as possible. Contact us today!