Published in Criminal Law by Chris Eskew on January 4, 2023.

Have you ever gone out to a bar or restaurant and had “one too many” only to wake up the next morning wondering if you behaved well? It’s usually not a big deal. However, if you are unfortunate enough to wake up in jail or with a citation, you will likely ask yourself, What is a public intoxication charge?

Eskew Law is a boutique law firm based in Indianapolis that focuses on criminal defense, among other areas of law. In our decade of service to the people of Indianapolis and the surrounding areas, we developed a reputation for helping people out of situations they cannot handle on their own—like facing public intoxication charges. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you fight a public intoxication charge.

Public Intoxication Laws and Penalties

Indiana Code § 7.1-5-1-3 is the state’s public intoxication law. The police could charge you with public drunkenness when you appear intoxicated by either alcohol or a controlled substance in a public place, and one of the following applies:

  • You are endangering your life,
  • You are endangering the life of another person,
  • You breached or are in imminent danger of breaching the peace, or
  • You are harassing, alarming, or annoying another person.

The law defines the crime as a Class B misdemeanor. The potential punishment for a Class B misdemeanor conviction in Indiana is a maximum of 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Indiana law prohibits public intoxication while using public transportation or a common carrier. This law applies to bus stations, airports, ticket offices, waiting areas, and train platforms. Being drunk on a public bus is not a crime. But endangering yourself or someone else, breaching the peace, or disturbing another in the process is a Class C misdemeanor. However, the crime rises to a Class B misdemeanor if you intentionally commit the violation or have a prior public intoxication conviction within the previous five years. The penalty for a Class C infraction is up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

When Can Police Charge You with Being Drunk in Public?

Interestingly, Indiana law does not prohibit drinking in public (although local laws might). That means that you have not committed a state crime if you are simply drunk in public. You have violated the law only if, in addition to being intoxicated, you endanger someone’s life, breach the peace, or disturb another person. 

However, the statutes are broad, so police can use them in many different ways. The police could charge you if you’re yelling and swearing in the street at 2 AM in a residential area or if you stumble out into traffic and nearly get hit by a passing vehicle. Also, if a bouncer at a bar asks you to leave because you’re out of control and you pound on the door to get back in, you could face public intoxication charges. 

How to Get Out of a Public Intoxication Charge

Defending against drunk in public charges is no different from defending against other criminal charges. The state always carries the burden of proof to establish that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Failing to prove any element of the charge must result in a not-guilty verdict. 

There are several ways to attack these charges. The strongest defense in your case depends on the specific facts surrounding the incident. 

Attacking the conclusions of the police officers is one of the strategies we could develop for you. The police have a tough job, but they must be fair to you nonetheless. Law enforcement officers sometimes conclude that certain behavior is endangering or threatening to justify arresting you. However, a judge or jury of your peers might not reach the same conclusion.

Similarly, you could win your case if the police claim you were intoxicated without medical evidence to confirm this assumption. 

Although the police can write a report that justifies arresting you for public intoxication by claiming that you harassed or annoyed other people, the prosecutor has to bring those witnesses to testify at your trial. You could have your case dismissed if those witnesses fail to appear. 

If you were with a group of people when the police arrested you, having witnesses testify on your behalf can be necessary for a victorious defense. Calling witnesses to refute the prosecution’s witnesses can win your case if the jury believes them over the police. 

Can You Have the Case Dismissed Without a Trial?

Prosecutors are very busy, and in the grand scheme of things, a public intoxication charge is not the most severe offense they handle daily. Sometimes, prosecutors like to focus on more serious crimes and unload less serious offense cases swiftly. Therefore, the prosecutor might offer you a chance to have the case dismissed if you complete a pre-trial diversion program. 

The prosecutor does not have to provide you with that opportunity. However, you stand a greater chance of having the case dismissed if you have no prior record, if no one sustained any injuries due to your behavior, and if you caused no property damage. 

A reputable defense lawyer gives you a tremendous advantage because they know how to negotiate with the prosecutor. Additionally, a skillful attorney understands how to highlight your best qualities to show the prosecutor that your behavior does not reflect who you are as a person. By focusing on attributes such as your education, occupation, family situation, reputation in the community, or other positive factors, your attorney might convince the prosecutor that you deserve a dismissal.

Convincing the prosecutor to dismiss your charge allows you to ask a court to expunge your arrest. Successfully expunging your arrest means that you have no legal requirement to disclose your arrest if requested on a job application, housing application, or loan application. 

Immediate Help with Your Public Intoxication Charge

Do not wait to see what happens in court before asking for help. Contact us right away for immediate assistance and a free consultation. No legal problem is too big or small. At Eskew Law, our award-winning lawyers focus on getting you the answers and help you need. Our criminal defense lawyers have the skill, knowledge, and experience needed to put this case behind you and get on with your life.

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Chris Eskew

Chris Eskew is the founding partner of Eskew Law. With over 15 years of experience, he focuses his practice on criminal defense, DUI defense, and family law. Chris is known for his dedication to his clients, his strong advocacy skills, and his commitment to achieving the best possible outcomes in legal matters. He is well-respected within the legal community and has earned a reputation for providing personalized and effective representation.