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Your Buzz Is Your Business (Unless You’re Acting the Fool)

  • A public intoxication charge in Indiana requires more than simply being intoxicated in public.
  • If you’re not bothering or endangering anyone (including yourself), there’s no reason for you to be charged with public intoxication.
  • If you are charged with public intoxication, the maximum penalty is 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Don’t let your good time turn criminal.

Whether we’re talking about bar-hopping through a bachelor(ette) party, celebrating the shared experience of a sporting event, or enjoying an outdoor summer concert, most of us have at least a passing familiarity with public intoxication. Even if you’ve never gotten tipsy outside your own home, you probably know someone who has.

Here’s the thing: Being drunk in Indiana isn’t illegal, and neither is appearing in public. If you combine these two hobbies, though, you are risking criminal charges.

If this strikes you as an unhelpful legal standard in a state that’s filled with bars and liquor stores, you have something in common with the Indiana General Assembly circa 2012. That was when our local government decided to clarify things by rewriting the public intoxication statute. No words were removed, but new language was added to the codified law. So what does it say?

Know the Standard

Let’s start with the old version. It used to be a Class B misdemeanor for you to be in a public place in a state of intoxication caused by your use of alcohol or a controlled substance. So, for example, if you got drunk at a bar, and you didn’t want to sleep there, you were engaging in public intoxication as soon as you stepped outside. Even if you were responsible enough not to get behind the wheel, you could still end up in jail just for walking home while drunk.

As of 2012, however, the public intoxication standard in Indiana has changed. It still means being intoxicated in public, but in order to be charged with the misdemeanor, you must also have participated in at least one of four undesirable and aggravating factors:

  • endangering your own life;
  • endangering the life of another;
  • breaching the peace (or giving the impression that you’re about to); or
  • harassing, annoying, or alarming another person.

Simply being drunk in public is no longer sufficient. Think of the current standard in Indiana as public intox plus. It’s still a Class B misdemeanor, and its maximum penalties include a $1,000 fine and 180 days in jail.  

Mind Your Manners

Now that we’ve addressed the statutory language, let’s talk strategy. No one would argue that police have it easy—they’re often dealing with people at their worst. If a law enforcement officer is speaking to you while you’re intoxicated, there’s a good chance that you’ve done something to attract attention.

Your best option—other than invoking your Fifth Amendment rights—is to remain respectful and cooperative. Obviously, alcohol can make it difficult to remain on your best behavior, but it’s still important to try. If you sass the police, you’re likely to find yourself in bracelets in the back of a squad car.

Explore Your Options

Let’s assume your encounter with law enforcement didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, and you’ve been charged with public intoxication. You still have defensive options available to you. One is to argue that you weren’t actually impaired.

This can be a difficult path. In order to succeed, you’ll need to convince the judge or jury that your word is more reliable than the officer’s. This is hard—but not impossible—and it will likely require some witnesses who will also testify that you were not intoxicated.

Another option may be to assert involuntary intoxication, but this is also going to be an uphill battle. It’s not easy to prove that you involuntarily consumed an intoxicant, and this is exactly what this defense requires you to demonstrate. If this is your chosen path, you should be prepared to present an understandable counter-narrative and supplement it with bloodwork and expert witnesses.

Alternatively, you could elect to concede the element of intoxication and challenge the allegation that you were in public. This may sound like the premise for a comedy sketch, it’s not an implausible scenario.

Imagine you’re drinking at a house party, and when the police arrive, they direct you onto the public sidewalk for questioning. If you’re subsequently arrested for public intoxication, you have a legitimate argument that you weren’t in public until the police ordered you to be.

Finally, now that Indiana has the public intox plus standard, you can try and challenge whichever aggravating factors are part of your charges. Because we’re talking about activities like endangerment, breaching the peace, and annoying people, these types of arguments are almost always going to be what attorneys like to call fact-sensitive.

Make the Smart Call

For better or for worse, there’s a thin line between enjoying yourself and breaking the law. If you find yourself charged with public intoxication or any other alcohol-related offense, you’re going to want an experienced defense attorney in your corner. For help you can use and advice you can trust, call the Marc Lopez Law Firm at 317-632-3642, and remember—always plead the 5th!