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Understanding Public Intoxication Laws in Ohio

Posted On: December 1st, 2023   |   Posted by: Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP
Person in hooded sweatshirt on corner with beer bottle, publicly intoxicated

While it’s legal for adults in Ohio to drink, excessive intoxication in public is not. Unfortunately, for many, the line between legally enjoying a few drinks and facing public intoxication charges is often blurred and subjective. After all, there are various events around Columbus associated with drinking alcohol, and the Arena District allows open containers under DORA.

But all too often, people still find their lives negatively impacted by an arrest for being drunk in public.

Here, the Columbus defense lawyers at Luftman, Heck & Associates explain – How “Drunk” Must a Person be to Be Convicted of Public Intoxication?

Legal Drinking Vs. Public Drunkenness

In Ohio, public intoxication is defined under Ohio Rev. Code  – 2917.11(A) as ‚an individual appearing in public under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the point where the individual is unable to exercise care for their own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of the alcohol or drug use is likely to cause physical harm to himself, herself, or another.

As you can see, public intoxication is determined by a person’s behavior and the discretion of law enforcement rather than by a specific number of drinks.

Cops Look for Signs of Intoxication

Whether you’re leaving a campus bar or Crew match, police officers typically look for certain behaviors to assess intoxication. A subjective assessment by law enforcement is all that is required, but generally, you will need to be visibly impaired for police to arrest you.

You may face arrest for public intoxication if you are:

  • Having trouble balancing
  • Demonstrating slurred speech or experiencing blurred vision
  • Stumbling or struggling to walk
  • Bothering others with drunken behavior

These signs can lead to an arrest, even if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is within legal limits for driving.

When Will Police Arrest You for Public Intoxication?

The reality is that it’s left up to law enforcement to decide whether you’re drunk enough to arrest. A police officer can arrest you if you are annoying, inconveniencing, or harassing others or putting others at risk of physical harm when there is any amount of alcohol in your system.

Unlike a DUI offense, there is no “legal limit” BAC threshold for public intoxication.

What are the Penalties for Public Intoxication?

In Ohio, public intoxication is typically charged as a first-degree misdemeanor, which can result in a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. If it leads to a disorderly conduct charge, the penalty could be a fine of up to $150 for a minor misdemeanor or aggravated misconduct (a fourth-degree misdemeanor), 30 days of jail time, and a fine of up to $250.

Other Consequences of Being Drunk & Disorderly

Convicted individuals may also face probation, community service, mandatory alcohol treatment or counseling, and payment of court fees. This is all on top of the embarrassment of an arrest, possible repercussions from your school or employer, and a lasting mark on your record.

A public intoxication conviction in your background can result in:

  • Employment Challenges & Lost Opportunities
  • Professional License Issues
  • Academic Discipline
  • Housing Difficulties
  • Travel Restrictions
  • Custody / Visitation Issues
  • Social Stigma
  • Financial Losses

What If You Were Not That Drunk?

Of course, simply acting drunk isn’t necessarily enough to make drunk and disorderly charges stick. Some officers may ask you to take a BAC test for more evidence of your drunkenness, but “passing” a BAC test doesn’t necessarily get you off the hook.

Even if you would be legal to drive, any alcohol in your system could be enough to charge you. Simply saying or even objectively proving that you had not consumed much alcohol is not enough on its own to get charges related to public intoxication dropped.

An arrest for behavior that made you seem publicly intoxicated can be amended to a disorderly conduct charge if it turns out you weren’t drunk. Disorderly conduct charges can be hard to fight alone, as it will be your word against that of the police officer — who generally is given more credibility in court.

How to Avoid Being Arrested for Being Drunk in Public

If you grab a to-go drink or decide to walk home from the bar, it’s crucial to do so responsibly. Here are some practical tips on how to enjoy your night out without crossing the line into behavior that could lead to an arrest for public intoxication.

  • Moderate Consumption: Limit your alcohol intake to avoid becoming visibly intoxicated.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink water between alcoholic beverages to reduce alcohol’s effects.
  • Use a Designated Driver: Have a sober friend who can help monitor and manage your behavior.
  • Avoid High-Risk Areas: Stay away from places where police presence is high or where disturbances are common.
  • Understand Local Laws: Be aware of specific public drinking and open container laws in your area.
  • Behave Respectfully: Avoid loud, boisterous, or disruptive behavior that could draw attention.
  • Stay with Friends: Drinking in a group can help ensure someone is there to help if you start showing signs of intoxication. 

What to Do If You’re Arrested for Public Intoxication?

Given the subjective nature of drunk and disorderly charges, it’s possible that an encounter with law enforcement after you’ve had a few could result in an arrest. If it does, follow these steps:

  • Remain Calm: Cooperate with the officers and avoid resisting arrest or arguing.
  • Remain Silent: Politely decline to answer questions until you have legal representation.
  • Contact a Lawyer: Request a defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney experienced in public intoxication cases can provide essential guidance.
  • Do Not Discuss Your Case: Avoid discussing your case with anyone other than your lawyer, especially while in custody or on social media after your release.
  • Attend All Required Court Appearances: Not taking them seriously can make public intoxication charges worse. Make sure to appear at all scheduled court dates related to your case.
  • Consider Alcohol Education or Treatment: If applicable, voluntarily enrolling in alcohol education or treatment programs may be viewed favorably by the court.

The Role of a Defense Lawyer

Many individuals mistakenly assume a public intoxication arrest will inevitably lead to a conviction, but this isn’t always the case. The circumstances of such arrests often involve subjective judgment by law enforcement, leaving room for legal defense. An experienced attorney can be crucial, particularly for those needing to maintain a clean record, like university students nearing graduation.

With a well-crafted legal strategy, it’s possible to successfully challenge public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges, highlighting the importance of not simply accepting one’s fate when faced with such accusations.

If charged with public intoxication, a lawyer can provide critical assistance by assessing your case, representing your interests, and protecting your rights. They can negotiate pleas to reduce the potential adverse effects, challenge the prosecution’s evidence, and ensure fair treatment. Additionally, an attorney offers guidance on a conviction’s potential impacts and advises on rehab programs, which may favorably influence your outcome. Their role is integral in mitigating a public intoxication charge’s legal and long-term consequences.

Contact LHA for a Free Initial Consultation

At Luftman, Heck, and Associates, our Columbus criminal lawyers have over a decade of experience fighting charges like these and obtaining the best possible outcomes for our clients. Call us at (614) 810-4780 to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help.

I can FINALLY breathe easy now. I want to thank Mr. Bowen and all the attorneys that helped me with this case.

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