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Public intoxication

You probably broke the law, and you didn’t even know it

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader


Attorneys who represent people accused of crimes are frequently asked, “how do you defend criminals?” Many people who have never been arrested or criminally prosecuted assume that those who have must be bad. Okay. I understand that there’s maybe a lack of understanding for how a person might find himself or herself on the wrong side of a jail cell. But maybe people should be a bit more empathetic: good people can break the law, especially when they don’t know that what they’re doing is illegal.

Let’s look at alcohol. Under Indiana law, if you are 21 years or older it is legal to possess or consume alcoholic beverages. And if you are 21 years or older you can legally enter a bar or tavern. Drink away, right? Wrong. It’s a crime to be intoxicated in any public location. Walking on the sidewalk or even sitting in the passenger seat of a car driven by a sober driver is against the law. The bottom line: if you have ever had too much to drink at a bar, restaurant, football game, wedding reception (you get the point), then you’ve committed the misdemeanor offense of public intoxication.

In Indiana, a person becomes intoxicated when he or she is under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or any other drug that alone or in combination leads that person to an “impaired condition of thought and action and the loss of normal control of a person’s faculties.” Ever drank enough that you didn’t feel “normal?” Isn’t that kind of the point? In Indiana, a person can receive a 180 day jail sentence and be placed on probation for up to a year (or two years in some cases) for a public intoxication conviction.

Now that you know what it means to be intoxicated, let’s look at the “public” side of it. A person’s home is not a public place. Likewise, the inside of a person’s apartment is not a public location. But, the lobby or hallway of an apartment complex might be considered “public.” The front porch of a house or even the driveway should be safe, but watch out for the sidewalk if you’ve had too much to drink. Sidewalks, parking lots, streets and alleys will in most cases be deemed “public.”

We all know it’s illegal for an intoxicated person to drive a vehicle. So, how does the guy who walks to the bar to get his “drink on” get home without breaking the law? Grab a ride with a designated driver or call a cab, right? I think that’s a great idea, but you should know that this summer, the Supreme Court of Indiana ruled that an intoxicated passenger of a vehicle driven by a sober driver committed the offense of public intoxication. Even though we have an expectation of privacy within our cars, those cars travel on public roadways and are considered “public” locations for purposes of the public intoxication statute. A drunk person can’t even walk home without breaking the law because sidewalks are also considered “public.”

So, if you want to stay within the confines of Indiana law you might be best served to drink at home or not drink at all. Maybe instead of “Don’t Drink and Drive” the slogan should be “Don’t Drink and Drive, Ride or Walk.” And if you are stopped, it helps if you show respect and act politely toward law enforcement officers. Police officers have discretion and can choose when to arrest for the offense of public intoxication. The more respect and courtesy you show to police, the less likely you are to be arrested for public intoxication. But above all else, don’t drive! Even though it might be illegal, your best options if you find yourself intoxicated in public are still to get a ride with a sober driver or to walk safely.

Most people who have consumed alcohol have committed the crime of public intoxication. Most don’t get arrested, and we should feel fortunate if that’s the case. If you ever drank too much, you probably committed a crime (or two). Criminal defense attorneys certainly understand just how easy it is for a person to find himself in need of a lawyer. The next time your buddy tells you he can’t go out drinking, go easy on him. Maybe he’s busy reviewing his case with his attorney.


Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more at his firm’s website at www.fortwaynedefense.com.

This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.