What You Need to Know about the Public Intoxication Laws in Texas

By June 7, 2018October 15th, 2021Public Intoxication

UPDATED October 12, 2021, Original Post: June 7, 2018 Public Intoxication

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If you have been arrested and accused of a public intoxication in Texas, it is critical that you have a good understanding of Texas public intoxication law and work with a criminal attorney that is experienced and has 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 critical to understand how the local police and prosecutors approach resolving these cases and how this could affect your future.

The public intoxication laws in Texas can be vague and confusing. How so?

Texas criminal law indicates that law enforcement officers can arrest a person on suspicion of public intoxication. However, the arrest can occur only if the police officer determine 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 2018, a Texas woman was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a friend 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.

This example is a common scenario that plays out frequently on the streets of cities across Texas. Perhaps the most insulting situations arises when a person is being responsible to not drink and drive and keep a designated driver to drive home after a party.

What happens if your designated driver pulled is over for a traffic violation and the police officer observes you in the car appearing to be intoxicated? You were doing the responsible thing, right? We are all told, “don’t drink and drive.” Use a designated driver, right? Unfortunately, police officers in the situation will frequently ask the parties in the car to step out and the moment you enter the public roadway, the officer will look to arrest you for public intoxication.

Critics agree that the law is too vague and allows for police to overstep their bounds. Essentially, they say that it allows police to conduct crowd control.

It’s a strong argument. 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, your 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.

As we mentioned earlier, A person could go out for drinks with friends, then decide not to drive home since they had too much to drink. Technically, this individual could be arrested for public intoxication when trying to do the right thing.

However, law enforcement officers say the leeway is needed to address a wide variety of behaviors 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.

What if you are walking out of a restaurant or bar after closing hours at 2am? What if the police are standing there waiting for you to walk out of the bar and approach you to question you? Can they arrest you for public intoxication? Unfortunately, this happens all the time.

For example, in Fort Worth, Texas it is a common occurrence for the Fort Worth Police Department to hang out near the 7th Street area and monitor people coming out of bars and round them up and arrest the for public intoxication. In fact, the police will keep vans nearby expecting to make a large-scale arrest effort every weekend. This is important information bar and restaurant visitors should take into consideration.

How Texas Public Intoxication Charges Work

Under Texas DWI law, a person is legally intoxicated if his or her 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 establishing 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 to remove them from the business.

Public intoxication a class C misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $500. It’s a low-level offense that carries the least amount of punishment for all alcohol-related offenses. However, because you are always arrested and booked into jail for this crime, it creates a criminal record that can limit your employment opportunities in the future.

Texas Public Intoxication Attorney

Why You Should Fight a Public Intoxication Charge

People ask our law firm this question all the time – Why does it matter? Is it really worth fighting a public intoxication charge if it is punishable by a fine only? Good questions! You have a few options to consider:

  1. You could simply pay the fine and be done with the incident – by paying the fine, you are pleading guilty, and the public intoxication 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. If you pay the fine, they win because you are convicted; if you demand a trial, they are not afraid of you because you represent yourself 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 deal or threaten a jury trial where the municipal judge will likely side with the prosecutor on evidence issues and trial procedure. This puts you at a distinct disadvantage when you represent yourself on public intoxication case in Texas.
  3. You could consider fighting back with the help of a skilled Fort Worth criminal attorney. By hiring a criminal defense attorney that has a proven history of success on 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 your public intoxication charge will be dismissed or resolved in a manner that allows your arrest and charge to be removed from your criminal record.

A misdemeanor charge stays on your record unless you can get it dismissed and expunged from your criminal record. Even if you are acquitted of your charge, 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. Public intoxication charges are seen by some employers as a red flag because it makes them concerned that 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 a 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 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 public intoxication lawyers strive to provide you as many options as possible for a dismissal. For example, if your public intoxication 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 intoxicaion charge if you complete an alcohol awareness course, 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 plea guilty or no contest to the charges and during the time period of the deferred you must complete certain terms and conditions. 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 experience can make all the difference in the world when seeking to have your criminal case dismissed.

You can fight your charges with the help of a knowledgeable Texas defense attorney. We will study the facts of your case to come up with the best possible strategy to call the charges into question and cast doubt about your guilt.

The Fulgham Law Firm is a team of Former Prosecutors with over 80 years of criminal law experience. We have defended hundreds of people from being convicted of public intoxication charges and we would be happy to sit down with you, discuss your case, and come up with a customized defense strategy for how to ensure you are not convicted of your criminal charges and can get your arrest and case information permanently expunged from your criminal record. Call today for a free case review. We will work 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.