Public Intoxication in Texas: What You Need to Know

April 24, 2024 | By Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys
Public Intoxication in Texas: What You Need to Know
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If you have been arrested and accused of public intoxication in Texas, it is critical that you understand Texas public intoxication laws and work with a dedicated criminal defense attorney who has experience handling these cases and proven results in helping clients avoid a conviction and clear their criminal record.

If you are facing a public intoxication charge in Fort Worth, Texas, or one of the surrounding cities in North Texas, it is also critical to understand how the local police and prosecutors try to resolve these cases and what to expect for your future.

How Serious is a public intoxication Charge in Texas?

Texas criminal law allows law enforcement officers to arrest a person on suspicion of public intoxication. However, the arrest can occur only if the police officer determines that the person is a danger to others or themselves. How is this determined? Let’s look at an example.

On New Year’s Day a few years ago, a Texas woman was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a friend who was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. Witness accounts said the woman yelled to the driver not to take the sobriety test. The arresting officers then charged the woman with public intoxication. The woman’s attorney believes the police applied the law in the wrong way and challenged the arrest and underlying charge.

a common scenario involving a public intoxication charge

Perhaps the most insulting situations arise when a person is being responsible and decides not to drink and drive. For example, maybe you consumed alcohol, so you ask a designated driver to drive you home after a party. Then, the designated driver is pulled over for a traffic violation, and the police officer sees you in the car and thinks you appear intoxicated.

You were doing the responsible thing, right? We are all told, “Don’t drink and drive.” Use a designated driver. Unfortunately, police officers in this situation will frequently ask all people in the car to step out, and the moment you enter the public roadway, the officer may try to arrest you for public intoxication.

Critics agree that the law is too vague and allows for police to overstep their bounds. Essentially, they argue that it allows police to conduct crowd control. It’s a strong argument. By claiming someone is publicly intoxicated, they can remove the person from the scene by arresting them.

Comparing Public Intoxication Standards to Other Intoxication Charges

Drunk driving arrests rely on evidence such as field sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood tests. Public intoxication law, on the other hand, relies only upon the officer’s suppositions and provides no guidelines as to prohibited behavior. In other words, Texas law allows an arrest for public intoxication based solely upon the officer’s opinion. An opinion can be wrong.

Anytime your criminal case is based solely upon the subjective opinion of a police officer, an experienced and aggressive public intoxication lawyer can use this to your advantage and work to establish reasonable doubt to possibly get your public intoxication case dismissed.

Law enforcement officers say the vague requirements are needed to address a wide variety of behaviors when it's best to take an inebriated person into police custody. Moreover, many Texas public intoxication cases involve a person creating a danger to themselves or others by slipping, staggering, or falling along a roadway at night.

Here's another possible situation involving Texas public intoxication. What if you are walking out of a restaurant or bar after closing hours at 2 am? The police are standing there waiting for you to walk out of the bar and approach you to ask some questions. Can they arrest you for public intoxication? Whether you think it's fair or not, this happens all the time.

How Texas Public Intoxication Charges Work

Under Texas Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) law, a person is legally intoxicated if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at least 0.08 percent. However, with public intoxication laws in Texas, the police are not required to test your blood alcohol level to make an arrest for public intoxication. The police can arrest you by looking at subjective evidence to establish probable cause, such as slurred words, bloodshot eyes, or an alcohol smell on your breath.

An arrest for public intoxication can occur in any public place, including porches and apartment building hallways. Any place licensed to sell alcohol is considered a public place. This is important because many people will attend a bar or club, and if the business does not like something about the patron, they can call the police over to make an arrest for public intoxication and remove them from the business.

How Long Do You Stay in Jail For Public Intoxication?

Public intoxication is usually a class C misdemeanor, only punishable with a fine of up to $500. It’s a low-level offense that does not qualify for jail time and carries the least amount of punishment for all alcohol-related offenses.

However, if you are arrested and booked into jail for this crime, it creates a permanent criminal arrest record that can affect your employment opportunities in the future. Also, you'll wait in jail until the authorities believe you are no longer a danger to yourself or others, or basically until you appear sober enough to leave.

Texas Public Intoxication Attorney

How to Fight a Public Intoxication Charge in Texas

People ask our law firm this question all the time. Is it really worth fighting a public intoxication charge if it is only a misdemeanor that is only punishable by a fine? Consider these options:

  1. You could simply pay the fine and be done with the incident. However, by paying the fine, you are pleading guilty, and the public intoxication charge becomes a conviction that is now on your permanent criminal record. In fact, if you appear at your first court setting on your own, the judge and prosecutor will give you the option of paying the fine or going to trial. They want you to pay the fine because you will be convicted. If you demand a trial, they are not afraid of you because you have no legal representation helping you fight the charge, and they will bring the officer in to testify against you.
  2. You could fight the case on your own. Unfortunately, representing yourself in court puts you at a distinct disadvantage. The prosecutor may attempt to bully you into a plea agreement or threaten to take the case before a jury, where the municipal judge will likely side with the prosecutor on evidence issues and trial procedures that you won't understand. There are many more reasons why you should represent yourself in a public intoxication case in Texas.
  3. You could fight back with the help of a skilled Fort Worth criminal attorney. When you hire a criminal defense attorney with a proven history of success handling public intoxication cases, your case will be moved to an attorney docket that allows your criminal defense lawyer to negotiate and advocate on your behalf. This greatly increases the odds that your public intoxication charge will be dismissed or resolved in a manner that allows you to remove your arrest and charge from your criminal record.

Why You Don't Want a Criminal Record

A misdemeanor charge can haunt you forever unless you request it be dismissed and expunged from your criminal record. Even if you are acquitted of your charge and found not guilty, the arrest and charges will remain on your criminal record unless you work to get it expunged.

A misdemeanor conviction can impair your chances of being hired for many types of jobs. Some employers see public intoxication charges as a red flag because it makes them wonder if you may have a substance abuse problem. When there are 50 candidates for a job, and they think you have a substance abuse problem, you may lose out on the job of a lifetime.

It can also enhance the penalties for any future offense. For example, if you pick up multiple public intoxication convictions, you could be charged with a higher-level misdemeanor charge of public intoxication. In fact, if you have two prior public intoxication convictions, your third arrest will result in a Class B misdemeanor charge of public intoxication that is punishable by up to 180 days in a county jail and up to a $2,000 fine.

What Can A Skilled Public Intoxication Attorney Do For You?

We understand that the only reason to hire a public intoxication lawyer is to ensure that you are not convicted of the crime and to resolve the case in a manner that allows you to ultimately have the arrest and charges expunged from your criminal record.

The best defense lawyers will strive to provide as many options as possible for a public intoxication Texas charge dismissal. For example, if your attorney reviews the police reports and digital media evidence and discovers that there are little to no objective signs of intoxication, they may be able to convince the prosecutor to dismiss your public intoxication charge outright.

What if you are guilty of public intoxication? Is there a way to still get a dismissal? Possibly. Experienced criminal defense lawyers can sometimes negotiate with the prosecutor and convince them that in exchange for you doing some conditions upfront, they will dismiss the case. For example, the prosecutor may agree to dismiss your public intoxication charge if you complete an alcohol awareness course or community service hours or agree to pay a fine.

Finally, you may be able to negotiate a deferred disposition of your public intoxication charge. In this situation, you are required to plead guilty or "no contest" to the charges and complete certain terms and conditions during the time period of the deferral. If you complete those terms and conditions, your case can be administratively closed, and you may be eligible for an expunction.

However, the big risk here is that if you do not complete the terms and conditions of your deferred disposition, you could face a public intoxication probation revocation, which could result in a hefty fine and a final conviction that would remain on your permanent criminal record. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney with public intoxication defense experience can make a big difference when seeking to have your criminal case dismissed.

When Facing a Public Intoxication in Texas charge, Trust Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys To Protect Your Rights

The best way to fight your public intoxication charge is with the help of a knowledgeable Texas defense attorney at Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys. We will study the facts of your case to devise the best possible strategy to question the charges and cast doubt about your guilt.

Our criminal defense team is made up of former prosecutors with over 80 years of criminal law experience. We have successfully defended hundreds of people after being convicted of public intoxication charges, and we would be happy to discuss your case and create a customized defense strategy.

Our goal is to ensure you are not convicted of these charges and help you have your arrest and case information permanently expunged from your criminal record. Call us today at (817) 809-3039 or fill out our online contact form for a free case review. Let's work together to protect your rights and your reputation.

About the Author:

Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.

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