Public Intoxication


Anyone will agree that a “drunk in public” or “public intoxication” charge does not look good on someone’s record. Some also call this law “disorderly conduct”–which doesn’t make it sound any better.  Employers will unfortunately not think highly of this kind of arrest once disclosed on a background check report.  And for some with professional licenses or executive positions, exposure to this kind of reputational harm could be irreparable.  So it’s not a surprise that many who get arrested for this will do whatever they can to avoid the stigma so that it does not have a lasting effect on their lives. Having someone who knows how drunk in public/public intoxication and disorderly conduct cases work can be a huge help in avoiding the unnecessary shame and consequences of the charge.  These cases can be deceptively complex once each person’s circumstances are considered.  Having worked with many clients in positions that cannot afford to suffer from this kind of stigma; a lot has been learned along the way.  Specifically in Orange County, high traffic drinking areas tend to result in many of these arrests and it helps to know the police practices of each agency.  Read below to find out more about how your case may stack up and what can be done about it.

One thing to consider overall, is that when it comes to professionals, everything is fair game.  Even though every arrest carries with it a very unique story, a criminal background report shows only one title without explanation.  It’s best to avoid it entirely.  And that’s what this post is all about.


Officers are trained in dealing with individuals who are under the influence of controlled substances as well as those intoxicated with alcohol. Each condition carries its own risk and each need to be handled accordingly. The majority of their training comes from their academy curriculum prior to being sworn as peace officers—which teaches them the basic elements of the charge under the penal code. Those same elements are reflected in many municipal ordinances as well. Having that said, the elements requires a person to be:

1. Willfully under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance,

2. Be in a public place

3. And be either (a) unable to exercise care for their own safety or (b) interfere/obstruct the free use of a public way (like a sidewalk or street).

Keep in mind that police have a care-taking function within their duties as peace officers. In many instances they probably would rather avoid having to deal with someone who is drunk in public—but it’s not their choice. Among their duties is to investigate whether or not the person is a nuisance to others or if they in some way are a danger to themselves or others due to their condition.  Many conditions can fit this authority to either detain someone being investigated for public intoxication and even more so to make a formal arrest.  Digging deeper into who some departments function, a common denominator emerges on what stands out as reasons to arrest and what doesn’t.  Probably the biggest factor in many officer’s minds is whether or not the person can safely go home (or alternatively, whether or not they have a means of finding someone to help them get home).  With the times of Uber and Lyft and other ride sharing applications, this could evolve into a conversation involving your phone.  Each case is different, but this is something that has been brought up frequently in our cases.

Alcohol Public IntoxicationDespite the fact that every arrest carries with it unique circumstances, there are patterns in many cases.  Much like assaults and domestic disturbances, police reports sometimes show a common denominator.  Having that in mind, here are some common scenarios that eventually lead to a public intoxication arrest:

1. Arguing With an Officer

While perfectly legal, arguing with a police officer brings more attention to your intoxication and could be the first domino to getting arrested for a drunk in public charge.  Police are trained to investigate current as well as “possible” violent behavior.  Several other factors come into play once this happens.  But the most important one of all is that abrasiveness (or belligerence) signals a red flag and draws upon a further investigation.  This can also include dismissive attitudes towards the show of authority (which can take many many forms and fonder for misunderstanding).  From a defense standpoint, this could in some cases assist the person arrested along with a well-established strategy to challenge the charge.  If this was a factor in your arrest, we strongly encourage you to explore your options in building a case that will bring you better options.

2. Walking Home or Back to the Hotel

Out-of-towners unfortunately become targets to one of the best things about travel (not having to drive after drinking socially).  In some cities, however, this kind of behavior is not encouraged–and often heavily prosecuted.  In some communities, public intoxication suggests an increase in overall crime or nuisance.  For someone with bad balance or a voice that can be louder than others, police will gravitate towards him or her to further the investigation.  If you are not familiar with the neighborhood you were drinking in, this will also draw attention and increase your odds of being approached by the local patrol unit.

Many clients have reported that the establishment where they were drinking in not only notified authorities about a potential public intoxication case, but some have suggested that the business may have a questionable incentive in doing so.  The evidence in some prior cases has supported this argument, but not in all cases.  Carefully analyzing the way in which the patron makes a call for service and weighing it against the history of the establishment can be tricky.  However, in some cases it may be worth the investigation in order to see whether or not any foul play exists.

3.  Resting (Loitering)Arrest for Public Intoxication

To some, a quite moment in public may be the very reason someone decided to drink one night.  For others, such as law enforcement and some communities, it may be a nuisance.  It sounds bizarre, but many novels and great ideas were created when someone stepped outside to look at the stars or have a cigarette.  But if you happen to be in a community where public intoxication is too prevalent, your moment of inspiration could be cut short.  Because officers have a community care taking function, they will want to know whether or not you are composed enough to find your way home.  Sadly, had nobody spoke to you, none would be the wiser.  But with the added nervousness of an officer’s presence and the lack of knowledge of what “drunk in public” actually entails, an arrest is likely to happen if things go wrong.

For all of the many scenarios that can take place, be assured that there can be an equal number of possible defenses or instances of mitigation.  Below are some examples of defenses and what public intoxication does to one’s criminal record.


Even an arrest that does not lead to a formal charge for public intoxication can have lasting effects on job searches and your overall identity.  Police department bookings are public records and eventually end up in criminal databases that can be accessed by third parties: employers, landlords, even love interests.  For a much more in-depth discussion about this topic, you can read about issues with criminal data warehouses and the shortcomings of the public record industry here: Arrest on background check.

There is hope! With the right strategy and attitude, your arrest does not have to end up as a formal criminal conviction or the punishment of jail. In certain courts, it is understood that being arrested for public intoxication is an out-of-character event for most adults. So it helps to work with your defense lawyer to portray your case as an once-in-a-lifetime moment that will not be repeated again.

Drunk in PublicApart from that, it helps to do a diligent investigation of the arrest for some cases. Many times, officers who are trying to do their job tend to be overly cautions in choosing to arrest someone rather than leave them alone (remember the care-taking function they play in our society). So it’s prudent to trace back the steps they took when they initiated the arrest through several means of forensics such as: civilian recordings, dash-cams, witness interviews, and a handful of other tactics to evaluate the case on a more granular level. These steps may seem burdensome and maybe even overkill, but some cases require it—and the stigma that comes with such an arrest warrants a full looking over.

Another class of persons that may be affected by such an arrest are those in between jobs or waiting to hear the results of an interview.  So it’s important to know the depth of this issue depending on one’s circumstances.  To read more about this, follow the following link: How a Current/Pending Criminal Charge can Affect Your Employment


Now that the prosecution has filed formal charges, the complaint becomes a public record and can be accessed through countless channels.  Third parties can access the public intoxication arrest and charge.  More importantly, the criminal record can be reported for employment purposes, housing, and other lawful investigations.  For more on this topic, you may follow this link: Criminal Charges on a Background Check.

At this point, it is necessary to mount a defense to the public intoxication charge and extract whatever noteworthy evidence exists to help you.  Additionally, mitigating facts also help build a positive profile and further establish that the arrest was something very out of character and not one to be repeated again anytime soon.  Some attorneys chose to use character references.  Others believe a packet that provides a comprehensive history of the client helps.  Every practitioner has a different approach.  The most experienced utilize a combination of options as well as use whatever has worked best in the past.

It should not be a surprise that many people arrested for public intoxication have no prior record of arrest or criminal charges.  This matters to the prosecutor and to the judge your case will be heard in front of.  As in life, a person’s first mistake should not be treated like another’s second or third.  Bottom-line is that the more out-of-character the person’s life is with the event–the more compelling is the contrast between receiving a punishment versus catching a break.  Anyone can find themselves in a situation where they have had too much to drink and don’t know what to do with themselves.  No profession or upbringing can predict who will behave this way.  So for many adults with clean records, a proper showing of this circumstance can go a long way.


For those who had either plead guilty or were found guilty in court, there is yet hope to prevent the public intoxication conviction from preventing future professional or personal fallout from occurring.  The most important things to consider are the terms of probation (if any) as well as any orders the court may have done at the time of sentencing.  This blueprint will allow your lawyer to navigate what the fastest and most effective route to clearing your criminal record should be.

criminal record disorderly conductSome tactics are similar to those used in fighting public intoxication charges when the case was active.  Additional efforts could include most recent milestones in the client’s life as well as an urgent need to reverse the conviction as soon as possible.  These facts help the presiding judge make a more comprehensive determination on the petition to set aside the plea in favor of the client.  Some courts have specific requirements to make an effective petition and the lawyer handling the case must be aware of these nuances.  A well-thought-out approach with a track record of successful motions is often the best combination.

Whether you have been arrested, charged, or convicted of public intoxication, there are options for each of these scenarios.  Every client’s position is unique and a thorough evaluation is needed to know what needs to be done first.

To speak to an experienced attorney about a drunk and disorderly conduct case, you can call or send a message to us.

Make the choice to protect your professional life by preventing the damage of a criminal record.  You have worked hard to get to where you are.  We can help you defend the reputation you deserve.

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