What you need to know to about public intoxication. You CAN get arrested for walking while drunk

With Baylor University and other schools back in session, we are seeing an increase in the number of people contacting us about tickets about public intoxication.  The typical scenario is you go to a party or maybe tailgating at a football game, and decide to walk home. Or maybe you decide to go somewhere else, and don't want to drive because you know you're drunk. So, instead of getting in a car, you walk. Along the way, a police officer sees you and stops you. The encounter doesn't go well, and they end up either writing you a ticket for public intoxication, or maybe even taking you to a jail. 

Believe it or not, this happens far more often than you might think. 

The offense of Public Intoxication

The offense of pubic intoxication is set forth in Section 49.02 of the Texas Penal Code. The definition of the offense is that:

(a) A person commits an offense if the person appears in a public lace while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.

Unless you have been convicted of the same offense before, the punishment is the same as for any Class C offense. If you have been convicted at least twice before, the fine amount is $250 to $2,000, and confinement is is an option - not to exceed 180 days.

The offense is not simply being drunk in public. Instead, you must be so intoxicated that you constitute a danger to yourself or others. You probably wonder what that means; frankly, so do I. Whether or not you are a danger to yourself or others is clearly a subjective opinion. However, the officer must have specific facts they are relying on to reach that opinion. Most of the time, the issue is whether you are a danger to yourself. An easy case is someone walking down the middle of street. Other situations are more difficult, and that is when you may have to present the case to a judge or jury.

Will an arrest for Public Intoxication show up on your record?

For many people - especially students - this is the first time they have experienced anything like. They and their family are concerned about the impact the charge may have on their future; after investing thousands of dollars in an education, you don't want to flush it down the drain. The good news is there are options, and it's not as serious as you might think, although it's still not something you should take lightly. 

Public intoxication is a Class C misdemeanor, which makes it similar to a traffic ticket. The case will be sent to either a municipal court, or a justice court. Since it is a Class C offense, the punishment is limited to a fine. 

The big question most people have - especially parents - is whether this is going to show up their record. The answer is yes, although it's not quite the same as a conviction for a more serious offense. Class C tickets are not generally entered into any type of statewide database. The exception is if you don't show up, or pay your fine. If that's the case a warrant is issued, which will be entered into most systems so that it will show up if you are stopped for anything. Even if it's not in a statewide or national database, it is still on file in the court where the case is filed. That means that if someone sends a request, they could find it.

Options for disposing of Public Intoxication charge

Even though it's not a serious charge, you probably don't want anything on your record. There are ways to have the case sealed, depending on what happens. If you are placed on deferred adjudication, you can apply to have the record expunged, which means it is removed from your record and sealed. There are almost no limits on the ability to do that, other than time; you have to wait 180 days from the date of the citation. That isn't going to be much of a problem, since you have been on deferred for some period of time, and generally won't have to wait very long.

Deferred Adjudication

There is one requirement that must be imposed if deferred is given. Community service must be imposed; not less than 8 hours or more than 12 hours if it's a first offense, and not less than 20 or more than 40 hours if there has been a previous conviction. There's also a limit on where community service can be performed; it must be "related to education about or prevention of misuse of alcohol or drugs, as applicable." If no place is available in the community, the Court can consider some other service it feels is appropriate.

Informal probation

The other alternative offered in some courts is what you could call an informal deferral. The way it works is that the prosecutor or the judge will impose certain terms, such as community service, and completion of an alcohol awareness class. They will set a time to complete that - such as 90 days, and re-set the case for that amount of time. If you complete the terms imposed - and submit that to the court - the charge will be dismissed. If you don't, you will have to appear before the Court and either plead guilty, or request a trial. 

What happens if you just go in and pay the ticket?

Whatever you do, don't simply go in and pay the ticket. That is considered a conviction, and you won't be able to get your record expunged. If you are a minor, you will also received a license suspension. I realize you might not want your parents to find out, but bite the bullet - they're going to find out anyway.

Summing it all up, a public intoxication charge is not the end of the world. There are ways to handle it, and put it behind you. Most times, the punishment you receive from your parents is going to be greater than what the court does to you.

Walter Reaves
Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.