Public intoxication—what you need to know

With the weather warming up and people finally spending more time outside their homes, an issue that frequently arises concerns arrests for being intoxicated in public under Virginia Code § 18.2-388. As with most areas of the law, there are a few things one can do to minimize the risk of even being arrested for this offense in the first place.

The most important one is to stay out of public. Virginia’s court typically construe “public” to mean anywhere visible to the public. This means that someone can be on own property and still be guilty of being intoxicated in public. Simply drinking a glass of wine on the front porch puts you within eyesight of people who pass along.

The second one is to limit how much alcohol you drink to avoid being “intoxicated.” In Virginia law, intoxication is not necessarily having a blood alcohol content of above 0.08, as in a DUI. “Intoxication” results from having drunk enough alcohol “to observably affect [your] manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior.” Some people will display these signs with a BAC as low as 0.05—far before that person would be liable to be convicted for driving drunk!

This means that someone who stumbles, or slurs their speech, or displays bloodshot or watery eyes, or acts in an excessively emotional manner might be liable to being found to be “intoxicated.”

A conviction for being drunk in public is a class 4 misdemeanor, currently meaning a fine of $250 at most. But it is a charge upon which police can still arrest you, and it entails all the danger of being confined in a jail and the time and expense of appearing before a court if you wish to dispute it.

The attorneys at Winslow & McCurry have experience in handling thousands of these kinds of cases. If you or someone you care for is facing this kind of charge in the Richmond, Hanover, Henrico, or Chesterfield area, call us for a consultation at 804-423-1382 and we can help!