When is public intoxication a crime?

On Behalf of | Nov 22, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

A person who’s drunk in public can be an embarrassing sight. Maybe they’re a sleepy drunk who’s snoring on the side of the road. Or maybe they’re stumbling all over the place as they walk towards their car.

Public intoxication by itself isn’t a crime. But you commit a criminal offense under North Carolina law when you become a nuisance to others because of your lowered inhibitions and stupor.

Drunk and disruptive persons break the law

Per North Carolina rules, it’s unlawful for any person in a public place – such as a restaurant, parking lot, side of the road, etc. – to be intoxicated and disorderly. Specifically, the law prohibits the following unruly behavior from drunk persons:

  • Begging for money
  • Blocking access to a sidewalk or building entrance
  • Blocking or interfering with vehicular traffic on a highway or public area
  • Cursing, shouting at other people
  • Grabbing, pushing or fighting/challenging others to a fight

A violation of the state’s public intoxication law is a Class 3 misdemeanor. On conviction, the person faces up to 20 days in jail and a $200 fine.

Alcoholism as a factor in a public intoxication case

A person facing a charge of public intoxication and disruption may claim in their defense that they’re suffering from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a person’s inability to manage their drinking habits to the point that it affects their health, as well as their social and economic functions.

By law, the presiding judge at the hearing of the accused person must consider the defense of alcoholism – even if the person doesn’t raise it. The judge may also request additional information on whether the accused is suffering from alcoholism and may direct an alcoholism court counselor to conduct a prehearing review of the person’s drinking history.

In summary, public intoxication is only a crime when the person becomes disruptive and a general nuisance to others around them. Having a history of alcoholism may be a defense to this charge and lead to rehabilitation efforts instead of criminal penalties. If you face this charge, consider consulting a legal professional to understand how to approach your defense in court.