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

By June 7, 2018July 2nd, 2021Public Intoxication

UPDATED 7/1/2021, 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.

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

Texas 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.

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 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.

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, most 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.
  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.
  3. You could consider fighting back with the help of a skilled Fort Worth criminal attorney. By hiring a criminal defense attorney, your case will be moved to an attorney docket that allows your 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. Even if you are acquitted of your charge, it will remain there unless you work to get it expunged. A misdemeanor conviction can impair your chances of being hired for many types of jobs. It can also enhance the penalties for a future offense.

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.

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.