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Texas Penal Code on Public Intoxication: Consequences, Penalties, and Legal Defenses

young woman blowing on breathalyzer

Understanding the Texas law on public intoxication can benefit anyone who consumes alcohol. While the charge is classified as a misdemeanor and usually includes a modest fine, the public intoxication consequences in Texas go far beyond immediate legal repercussions.

A conviction for public intoxication, or PI, can show up on criminal records and background checks, causing significant harm to job prospects and personal reputations.

While the language of the law may seem straightforward, there are subtle nuances that make its interpretation complicated. Many people become frustrated by the gray areas that surround public intoxication laws. This article will help explain what constitutes public intoxication and the best methods for dealing with a PI charge.

But, most importantly, if you or someone you know is facing a charge of public intoxication, don’t wait to hire an attorney. The sooner you secure representation, the better the outcome could be.

What Is the Public Intoxication Law in Texas?

The Texas Code requires three conditions to be met for an individual to be charged with public intoxication.

In order to warrant a PI charge, an individual must be:

  • In a public place.
  • Under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • A potential danger to themselves or others.

While these criteria may seem simple, the PI charge is actually very subjective. It often relies on assessments from law enforcement agents that may not be accurate or well informed.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that someone needs to meet all three of these criteria to be legally charged. If an accused person can demonstrate in a court of law that they didn’t meet even one of the criteria, they can avoid facing the consequences of public intoxication in Texas.

Public Places

According to the Texas Code, a “public place” is any location that’s accessible to the public. That includes both clearly public areas, like streets and parks, as well as many establishments typically thought of as private.

Places like bars and restaurants are considered public places even if they’re private businesses because the public has access to them. Even apartment complexes that are behind gates are considered public in the eyes of the law.

Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol

To face the consequences of public intoxication in Texas, an individual must be intoxicated. The law defines intoxication as when an individual lacks normal use of mental or physical abilities due to alcohol or drugs or as having a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or greater.

In many PI arrests, law enforcement agents don’t administer Breathalyzer or field sobriety tests. Instead, they rely on clues like slurred speech or bloodshot eyes to make an arrest.

A Potential Danger to Themselves or Others

Texas law states that PI charges require that an individual “may endanger” themselves or someone else.

The word “may” in the law means that enforcement of the law is extremely subjective. It’s up to police officers to determine whether an individual may be a threat.

In addition to obvious signs, like starting a fight or falling face-first onto the floor, a person may be charged with PI for a variety of more subtle behaviors. This can include stumbling while walking (because they could potentially trip and hurt themselves) or being so drunk and “out of it” that they could easily be a victim of theft.

In addition, several other behaviors typically associated with drunk people, like using offensive language, acting aggressively, or making a lot of noise, are often used as grounds for a PI charge.

It’s vital to remember that it’s not a crime to be drunk. Nor is it a crime to be drunk in public. Sometimes, people catch a PI charge for simply having a bad attitude around police officers. The law states that such behavior is not enough for someone to face the consequences of a public intoxication charge in Texas.

Penalties for Public Intoxication in Texas

In most circumstances, a public intoxication charge in Texas rates as a Class C misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $500. However, the most damaging consequences a public intoxication conviction can result in often come from the criminal record it creates.

While it may seem tempting to take a plea deal that reduces the fine, doing so can cause problems later, especially for people who want to get a new job, pursue more education, coach youth sports, or serve in any sort of public capacity.

For people under 21 years, a charge of public intoxication in Texas carries more consequences. In addition to facing a fine and the creation of a permanent criminal record, a PI charge carries the additional penalties of a mandatory alcohol awareness course and, often, community service (up to 12 hours).

In addition, public intoxication can be charged alongside other crimes, which can add more severe consequences.

Legal Defenses for Public Intoxication Charges

It can be tempting to think that because the consequences for public intoxication in Texas seem small, no defense is necessary. However, a PI charge can have long-lasting effects.

Fortunately, individuals facing PI charges have several options when it comes to defense.

Accused people can challenge the evidence of intoxication. The arresting officer must demonstrate that an individual was under the influence of alcohol or drugs for a PI charge to hold up in court.

Another common defense is to question the legality of the arrest. If an individual doesn’t meet all three criteria for a PI charge (a public setting, under the influence, and a potential danger to themselves or others), the arrest isn’t legal. Individuals who can demonstrate they weren’t causing a disruption or behaving in a way that would make them potentially dangerous can often win their case.

First-time offenders often receive preferential treatment and have more options to get out of a PI charge. These can include getting the charge dismissed entirely and cleared from the accused’s criminal record.

How to Handle a Public Intoxication Charge

The best defense is always to hire a lawyer. Experienced lawyers understand the system and can advise you on the best course of action to take.

Hiring an attorney increases your odds of beating a PI charge. Lawyers also know how to clear the charge and arrest from your criminal record, saving you embarrassment or a loss of opportunities in the future.

No matter if you’re a first-time offender or believe the public intoxication charge is unwarranted, it’s in your best interest to hire a lawyer to ensure your case is handled fairly and you face the state of Texas’ minimum consequences for public intoxication, both at trial and in the future.

Ready to schedule your free consultation with our Austin criminal defense lawyers? Contact us online or call us at (512) 991-0576 today.

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