Public intoxication

Public intoxication

Public intoxication, also known as "drunk and disorderly", is a summary offense in many countries rated to public cases or displays of drunkenness. Public intoxication laws vary widely from country to country.



While it is technically illegal in most states and territories of Australia to be drunk and disorderly, most Australian police take a humane approach with regards to public intoxication. This includes transporting the IP ("Intoxicated Person") to his or her residence or temporary detention at a police station or other welfare establishment until the intoxicated person is sober.[citation needed]

In Victoria being "drunk in a public place"[1] and "drunk and disorderly in a public place"[2] are separate offences contained in the Summary Offences Act 1966 which have their own power of arrest. Recent changes to legislation allow police to issue an infringement notice for these offences[3] in addition to the traditional method of charging and bailing the offender to the Magistrates' Court. The current fine attached to the infringement notice is $590.00 for a first offence and $1100.00 for a subsequent offence.[4] A person arrested for being drunk or drunk and disorderly is held at the Melbourne Custody Centre or the cells at a police station or placed in the care of a friend or relative.

In New South Wales police have the discretion to issue "on the spot" fines or infringement notices for "drunk in public," a fine that costs the individual over $480 (4 penalty units). Community Legal Centres across the state complain about these fines and the impact it has had on various vulnerable members of the community, including young people, the homeless and minority groups.

Prosecution (charging) is generally only considered if the person is violent or other offenses have been committed.[citation needed]

As an example, a "Drunk and Disorderly" Fine in the State of New South Wales starts at $550:

As of February 2009, local Councils in the State of New South Wales are not allowed to charge people who drink in Alcohol Free Zones; they are only permitted to confiscate the alcohol of the intoxicated person.[5]


In Canada, liquor laws are made by the provinces and not the federal government.

In British Columbia, drinking in public and public intoxication are offenses. If an event is to take place in public with alcohol it must have a permit.

While liquor laws are similar from province to province, the laws in the Territories tend to be substantially different. For instance, in the Northwest Territories public intoxication can result in imprisonment or detention in a medical facility for up to 24 hours (NWT Liquor Act).

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, there are a number of offences dealing with intoxication, which vary between the constituent countries.

In a public place, it is an offence to be:

  • drunk,[6]
  • drunk and disorderly[7]

It is also an offence to be drunk:

  • while boarding, or while on board, an aircraft[8]
  • while in charge of a child under 7 years old[9]
  • while travelling to a "designated sporting event" (usually professional football matches) on public transport[10] or a vehicle with eight seats or more[11]
  • while in, or attempting to enter, a "designated sporting ground" (a football ground) during a designated sporting event.[12]

Typically the police will, depending on the circumstances, help the intoxicated person on their way or place the person in a police station cell until sober. Once fit to be dealt with the detained person will normally either be cautioned, be issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND - £80 fine in ticket form) or bailed to appear at the local court. The court in turn may issue a fine (up to level 1 or level 3 on the standard scale depending on the offence charged).

There are also many more specific offences, including driving a motor vehicle while drunk (or being found 'drunk in charge')[13] and riding a cycle while unfit through drink.[14] Furthermore, the police have the power (although not the obligation) to confiscate any alcohol which is being consumed in public by those under 18, and local authorities have the power to prohibit alcohol consumption in certain areas.[15]

New Zealand

In New Zealand, drinking in public is not a crime and instead, local governments must specify that alcohol is banned in an area before it is considered a crime to drink in that location. Being drunk in public is not specifically an offense unless the person who is intoxicated is a public nuisance, in which case they may be dealt with for 'disturbing the peace'. This will usually result in being taken home, or otherwise taken to a police cell until sober.

United States

Because Article One of the Constitution of the United States does not grant the United States Congress the power to control public intoxication under federal law, it is therefore, under the Tenth Amendment, one of the powers "reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people." Thus, public intoxication laws in the United States are entirely a product of state and local laws. As a result, laws in the United States regarding drunkenness vary widely from state to state.

1968 Constitutional challenge

In 1968, in the case of Powell v. Texas, the Texas law against public intoxication was challenged in the Supreme Court of the United States for alleged violation of Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. The court upheld the law, ruling that making a crime of public intoxication was neither cruel nor unusual.

State public intoxication laws today

  • California: California Penal Code 647(f) considers public intoxication a misdemeanor. The code describes public intoxication as someone who displays intoxication to liquor, drugs, controlled substances or toluene and demonstrates an inability to care for themselves or others, or interferes or obstructs the free use of streets, sidewalks or other public way. California Penal Code 647(g) affords law enforcement the option to take an individual fitting the arrest criteria for 647(f), and no other crime, into civil protective custody if a "sobering facility" is available. Essentially, the detainee agrees to remain at the location until the facility's staff consents to their departure; usually after four hours and upon the belief that the detainee is safe to look after themselves. Not every municipality in California has such a facility. Also, if a person is being combative and/or is under the influence of drugs, they will be taken to jail. Unlike a person who is taken to jail, a civil detainee under 647(g) is not later prosecuted in a court of law.[16]
  • Georgia: In Georgia, public intoxication is a class B misdemeanor. Public intoxication is defined as a person who shall be and appear in an intoxicated condition in any public place or within the curtilage of any private residence not his own other than by invitation of the owner or lawful occupant, which condition is made manifest by boisterousness, by indecent condition or act, or by vulgar, profane, loud, or unbecoming language.[17]
  • Indiana: In Indiana, public intoxication is a class B misdemeanor, punishable with up to 180 days in jail, and a $1000 dollar fine. <> The assessment of public intoxication is at the discretion of the arresting officer, who has the option, in addition to the citation, of detaining the individual in jail, or transporting the individual to his or her home or to the home of a responsible caretaker. (See IC 7.1-5-1-3, 12-23-15).
  • Iowa: the Code of Iowa Sec 123.46 states that "a person shall not be intoxicated or simulate intoxication in a public place". Public Intoxication is a Simple Misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 30 days jail and a $1000 fine. Aggravated Public Intoxication (3rd or subsequent Offense) is an Aggravated Misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 2 years in prison. Most County Attorneys frown on arrests without some type of poor conduct.[18] However this would not normally invite arrest unless the person had caused a nuisance or posed a danger to themselves or others.
  • Kansas: Being drunk in public in Kansas is not a criminal offense. Kansas statute 65-4059 states "No county or city shall adopt any local law, ordinance, resolution or regulation having the force of law rendering public intoxication by alcohol in and of itself or being a common drunkard or being found in enumerated places in an intoxicated condition, an offense, a violation, or the subject of criminal penalties."
  • Missouri has no state public intoxication law. Missouri's permissive alcohol laws both protect people from suffering any criminal penalty (including arrest) for the mere act of being drunk in public, and prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting criminal public intoxication laws on their own.[19]
  • Montana state law states that public intoxication is not a crime. However, the law allows law enforcement to take an intoxicated person home, or to detain them, if they are a danger to themselves or others. The law also states that no record can be made that indicates the person was arrested or detained for being intoxicated.[20]
  • Nevada has no state public intoxication law. Nevada state law both protects people from suffering any criminal penalty (including arrest) for the mere act of being drunk in public, and prohibits local jurisdictions from enacting criminal public intoxication laws on their own.
  • Wisconsin also does not have a state public intoxication law although municipalities may pass city ordinances prohibiting public intoxication. Public intoxication is legal in Milwaukee, however, public drinking is not.

See also


  1. ^ "Summary Offences Act 1966". Australian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  2. ^ "Summary Offences Act 1966". Australian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "Infringements (General Regulations ) 2006 - Schedule 3 Section 10AA". Australian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  4. ^ "Tough new laws to tackle drunken louts". Premier of Victoria. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  5. ^ "Ministerial Guidelines" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  6. ^ "section 12 Licenisng Act 1872". Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  7. ^ "section 91, Criminal Justice Act 1967". Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  8. ^ "section 139, Air Navigation Order 2009". 2009-11-17. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  9. ^ "section 2, Licensing Act 1902". Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  10. ^ section 1, Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985
  11. ^ 1A, Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985
  12. ^ section 2, Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985
  13. ^ [1] - Road Traffic Act 1998, ss.4-5
  14. ^ [2] - Road Traffic Act 1998, s.30
  15. ^ [3] - Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, ss.12-16
  16. ^ "CAL. PEN. CODE § 639 : California Code - Section 639". Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  17. ^ "LexisNexis Custom Solution: Georgia Code Research Tool". Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  18. ^ The Code of Iowa[dead link]
  19. ^ Section 67.305, Revised Statutes of Missouri (R.S.Mo.)
  20. ^ "Article 53-24-107 of the Montana Code". Retrieved 2010-02-26. 

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