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Drunk in Public and Public Intoxication Crimes

Sometimes, when people choose to go out at night for a good time with friends and family, they also choose to consume alcohol. While all adults of the legal drinking age are legally allowed to drink alcohol, whether in their own home or out on town, a fun time can turn into a stressful interaction with law enforcement if people enjoy themselves a little too much and drink until they are visibly drunk, or are publicly intoxicated.

There are two distinct aspects to every public intoxication charge:

  1. Being in public: If someone else can reasonably see you, or you have not taken any steps to enter a private space, you are in public. Being in the backseat of your locked vehicle or on your lawn with the gate open, for example, still count as being in public despite you technically being in and on your private property.
  2. Being intoxicated: Law enforcement officers do not need to get scientific with public intoxication charges, not like they do with DUIs; they only need to determine if you are drunk based on your behaviors and actions. If you have slurred speech or cannot stand up straight without balance issues, they are free to label you as intoxicated.

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What is The Penalty for Public Intoxication?

Punishment for public intoxication in Virginia includes:

  • Virginia code section 18.2-388 states that the punishment for public intoxication in Virginia is a class 4 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a $250 fine.
  • Various localities have local municipal codes which also prohibit being intoxicated in public; these codes primarily mirror the state code in what elements are required, as well as the punishment.

Don't Plead Guilty

The vast majority of individuals charged with public intoxication simply prepay the fine or plead guilty in court – DON’T! While public intoxication in Virginia is a non-jailable offense, serious repercussions may come from a conviction.

As a civilian, your career may be impacted whether you are in the corporate world or work as a commercial truck driver. College students or persons in technical training programs often find that once they graduate and are either applying for jobs or seeking to take a professional licensing exam that a conviction for public intoxication can bar them from working in the field that they have devoted years of money and hard work to.

Additionally, once you have several convictions for drunk in public, or combined with a DUI conviction, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office can actually petition the Circuit Court to have you “interdicted,” which makes it illegal for you to simply purchase or possess alcohol.

If you are an active duty service member, a public intoxication arrest can be even more damaging, basically doubling when compared to the trouble an average civilian would face. Other than incarceration and high fines paid to the state, a serviceman will be dishonored or severely punished by their commanding officer or other soldiers within their unit. If the service member has had prior alcohol-related incidents (ARI’s) in the past, the risks of an administrative separation or rank demotion increase dramatically.

How to Defend Yourself Against Public Intoxication Charges

The arresting officer may make it seem as if you have no way out of a public intoxication charge but that is merely a member of the police force doing their job. The truth is that there are defenses to every alleged crime on the books.

You might be going up against powerful opposition who has stacked the deck with their evidence but that is no reason to give up now. At McCormack & McCormack we believe in our clients and the fairness of the criminal justice system.

Our Virginia Beach criminal defense attorneys can consider the following defense strategies for your public intoxication case:

  • Sobriety: As mentioned previously, you are probably not going to be asked to perform any sort of chemical test to determine your actual blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level if you are arrested for being drunk in public. Without anything but the officer’s discretion as evidence, we can exploit their lack of thoroughness and argue that you were sober the whole time.
  • No harm, no foul: Many public intoxication arrests are pretty cut and dry – someone is visibly drunk, the police happen to be nearby, and they arrest them. But looking at arrest records show that nothing harmful ever happened, such as no property damage, no attempted assaults, nothing. We may be able to significantly reduce your sentencing or have the case dismissed if we can show the judge that your public intoxication was totally harmless.
  • Led into the public: Were you within your own home, enjoying some alcoholic beverages, and then told to step outside to talk to the police? Before you know it, you might be arrested for being publicly intoxicated, despite never having the intention of entering a public space. This defense can sometimes be used if you were in a bar and told to leave due to intoxication.
  • General mitigation: Our attorneys have had countless public intoxication charges dismissed based purely off mitigation evidence presented to the court. This often includes our client’s career or military rank/position and security clearance, all of which can be negatively impacted by a conviction for drunk in public; our client having attended AA classes or other alcohol counseling, including through SARP or comparable military-based treatment sessions prior to the court date; our client having completed a period of community service; among others. In many of these cases, our client is clearly technically guilty of the offense and there would seemingly be no valid defense to the charge. Based on our expertise and knowledge preparing our clients and the case for trial, we oftentimes succeed in having the case dismissed either immediately at trial or several months down the road.

Were you arrested for public intoxication? Let Criminal Defense Attorney Jarrett McCormack and the law firm of McCormack & McCormack be your legal advocates who defend your rights and uphold your best interests.

With more than 41 years of combined legal and trial experience, our attorneys have become well-known throughout Hampton Roads as top-tier lawyers who give personalized counsel to everyone we help.


You can call 888.718.5899 today and set up your complimentary initial consultation.


by Jarrett McCormack

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