It may come as a shock to some people that being drunk in public can be a crime. It’s a scary thought because most adults can recall a time when they consumed alcohol while away from home. Yet, the criminal offense of public intoxication requires more than mere drunkenness in a public area. In general, offensive behavior must accompany the state of intoxication. Here, we’ll review the situations where being drunk in public can lead to a criminal offense.
Is It Legal to Drink in Public?
It is totally legal to drink alcohol in public. People consume alcohol all the time at sporting events, restaurants, and nightclubs. In fact, it’s not even a crime to be drunk in public. Illinois state law ( 20 ILCS 301/55-15 ) actually prohibits county or city governments from making intoxication alone a criminal offense. However, it may be illegal to consume alcohol in certain places such as public parks.
It goes without saying that consumption of alcohol by minors is still illegal. Those under 21 years of age are not allowed to drink alcohol in public or private. Those who violate this law can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
How Public Intoxication Can Become a Crime
Typically, a drunk person must perform a combative or indecent act to commit a crime. One example is the offense of indecent exposure as prohibited by Illinois Statute Section 5/11-30. Under this statute engaging in sex acts in public or exposing one’s body for sexual gratification is a Class A misdemeanor.
A drunk person may also be arrested for disorderly conduct. Per Illinois Statutes Section 5/26-1 it is a crime to knowingly impose a breach of the peace. This section also makes it illegal to prank call 911 or otherwise make a false report to emergency agencies. Other conduct that falls under this offense is peeping into the dwelling of another.
Fighting usually accompanies drunkenness. Practically every jurisdiction makes it illegal to assault another person. Aggravated assault charges may result if one uses a weapon during an attack. Committing an assault is likely to end in an arrest and jail time.
Vehicle related offenses are also common during times of intoxication. It’s clear that driving while under the influence is illegal. Additionally, it’s illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. Driving or vehicle offenses are the most common way people get in trouble while intoxicated. These crimes can also carry stiff punishments if convicted.
The list of alcohol induced criminal activity can go on and on. Excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to poor decision making. The end result might be a criminal case for sexual assault, trespass, or property damage. Therefore, although public intoxication is not a crime the actions you take during that time could be.
Other Consequences of Public Intoxication
Although a legal arrest is unlikely for intoxication there can be other consequences. Displaying drunk behavior in public can still attract the attention of police officers. Law enforcement may still interact with you in order to determine whether you are safe. Although you can’t get arrested for drunkenness it’s possible you could be put into protective custody. This means that the police can take you to a residential facility or a drunk tank if it appears you cannot take care of yourself.
Fighting Intoxication-Related Charges
Fighting the charges discussed above is the same as fighting any criminal case. Some defendants may assume that they are not guilty because of the altered state of mind caused by the intoxication. Unfortunately, voluntary intoxication is not a defense to any crime. At one point Illinois law did allow for a voluntary intoxication defense. However, this defense became invalid in a 2002 case from a state appellate court.
Today, the only way intoxication is a valid defense is where a person involuntarily consumes alcohol or drugs. The intoxication must occur due to deceit or fraud which is outside of the defendant’s control. In such a situation, the state of intoxication will negate the mens rea (or required mental state) for some crimes.
If you find yourself charged with an alcohol-related offense it is important to consult an attorney. An experienced lawyer can help you find the best resolution for your case.