Public Intoxication in Texas

Public intoxication in Texas is a very serious charge that can be brought against anyone whom police officers believe to be intoxicated in a public place and a danger to themselves or others. Even for those of legal drinking age, this can bring with it an arrest and a permanent stain on your record.

What is Public Intoxication in Texas 

Texas legislation defines public intoxication, or PI, much the same as drinking and driving. The statute stipulates that anyone who lacks normal control of their mental or physical faculties because of alcohol, drugs, other dangerous substances, or any combination of those can qualify as being intoxicated in public. Similarly, anyone who has a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08% or higher can also face charges for public intoxication.

However, this law is slightly vaguer compared to drinking and driving. When an officer believes someone to be driving under the influence, they can conduct field tests like a breathalyzer or blood test before arresting the individual. when it comes to public intoxication, the law does not require field tests or breathalyzers but rather relies entirely on the police officer’s discretion. 

There are no guidelines as to what behavior is specifically prohibited. Police officers have a license to visit a local bar and make an arrest based on a probable cause such as the smell of alcohol on your breath, slurred speech, or bloodshot eyes. In fact, there are plenty of situations where an individual goes out to celebrate with friends and decides they have consumed too much to drive home safely; they attempt to hail a cab or get home using public transportation and are arrested for public intoxication en route.

Texas Public Intoxication Law

Texas Penal Code states that public intoxication is a legal offense if the individual is intoxicated in public to a degree that they endanger themselves or anyone else. This means there are three factors that go into determining a public intoxication arrest and conviction.

1. Intoxication

The first is being intoxicated which, according to Texas state law means no longer having regular control over mental or physical faculties because of alcohol, drugs, even a controlled substance like prescription medication.

2. Public place

The law further stipulates that the individual in question has to be in a public place, a place that serves alcohol. A public place can also be any location where the public has access such as:

  • Streets
  • Sidewalks
  • Public events
  • Pubs or bars
  • Restaurants
  • Apartments
  • Parking lots
  • Stores
  • Transportation facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Office buildings

This effectively means if police believe an individual is intoxicated they can be arrested anywhere whether it is heading to their car in the parking lot, leaving a restaurant or a public event, walking to a cab along the sidewalk, or going through the doorway of their apartment.

3. A danger to themselves or others

When an individual appears in a public place as a danger to themselves or others, law enforcement officers can arrest them on suspicion of intoxication. 

The third part is even more subjective. A danger to themselves or others is up to the discretion of the arresting officer. If a police officer, for example, sees an intoxicated person sitting on a bench, it’s hard to view them as potentially dangerous. By comparison, if a police officer sees that person gets up from the bench and walk down the sidewalk stumbling near the street, the officer could claim that they were in danger of stumbling into traffic. Likewise, an officer could see someone bumping into people outside of a bar as a danger to other people especially if they seem like they might start a fight.

This remains subjective and seeing someone as a potential danger to others is up to the officers in question.

Is public intoxication a misdemeanor in Texas? 

This depends on the age of the person in question. Texas state law stipulates that anyone over the age of 21 convicted of public intoxication will face charges of a Class C misdemeanor. Anyone over the age of 21 charged with and convicted of public intoxication will have the charge appear permanently on any background checks. Moreover, that charge and conviction can be used against an individual in any future criminal proceedings.

Anyone under the age of 21 is punishable to the same degree with the additional charge of drinking underage.

What Happens After an Arrest for PI?

Once an officer determines someone is potentially intoxicated in public, they will make an arrest. An arrest for public intoxication means being brought to a local police station, fingerprinted, booked, and enduring a mugshot. If the individual is severely intoxicated, the officers can decide to leave them in jail until they have sobered to the point that they are no longer a danger to themselves or others. Thereafter you will be released from jail with a court date.

Penalties for Public Intoxication in Texas

The penalties vary for public intoxication depending on your age and any other extenuating circumstances surrounding the arrest. For example, an individual who is stumbling outside a bar and gets arrested for public intoxication might face lesser charges than an individual who got involved in a serious bar fight.

Texas public intoxication charge penalties

Texas public intoxication charge penalties include:

  • A Class C misdemeanor charge for any adult 21 years or older can also include a fine of up to $500. 
  • For any individuals under the age of 21 it will include the suspension of their driver’s license for up to 30 days, mandatory attendance in an alcohol awareness class, and community service up to 12 hours in addition to a fine up to $500.

When to Get an Attorney

Given how serious an offense this is, you should consider reaching out to an attorney to protect your rights. If you have been charged with public intoxication, and an officer arrested you on probable cause, you can work with a qualified attorney to come up with a strategy in your defense. With a vague definition for public intoxication charges and no guidelines as to what Behavior specifically qualifies, law enforcement officers have a great deal of leeway when it comes to arresting someone who is inebriated. If you so much as slip or stagger on your way home in front of an officer, it could result in serious consequences. 

Many individuals facing public intoxication charges make the mistake of thinking if they plead guilty it will be easier. They can get away with paying a fine and moving on. However, pleading guilty to these charges can result in a permanent condition that remains on your criminal record. 

There are defenses to public intoxication charges such as not being intoxicated, not being in public, or not being a danger to yourself or others. All three of these must be proven in order to convict you so being able to disprove one of those three can potentially work in your favor.

Conclusions

If you have been charged with public intoxication in Texas, it can be confusing and frustrating. The criteria are very subjective and law enforcement officers have been known to use public intoxication as a way to control crowds especially at popular establishments or during the holidays. If you are confused or unsure how to proceed, you can reach out to a public intoxication lawyer to better understand the charges against you and build a defense.

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