Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, are party central. The lights are always on and the drinks are always flowing. In fact, in New Orleans, it is legal to drink out in the street.
To be more exact, it is legal to drink outside only in the French Quarter, and only out of a plastic container. It is also legal for someone over the age of 18 to drink with someone who is over 21.
However, with all this freedom also comes responsibility. Even though it is legal to drink in public, it is not legal to be drunk in public.
Public intoxication is a misdemeanor charge in Louisiana, but a conviction will show on your criminal record. Since the law, and charge, is very subjective and depends largely on the observations of the police, there are some things you should be aware of before taking your party to the street.
Let’s talk about what you need to know about public intoxication in Louisiana.
What is Public Intoxication
To be charged with public intoxication in Louisiana you must appear unable to function with full mental and physical abilities. If it appears you are or will become, a danger to yourself or others, you are considered drunk in public.
Sometimes this charge is also known as drunk and disorderly. It means you are behaving in a manner to cause disruption in a public setting as a result of consuming too much alcohol or another controlled substance.
The law generally defines a public place as outside in the street, on the sidewalk, in parks, or outdoor venues. It does not cover activity at a private residence unless you are trespassing on their property.
Proof of Public Intoxication
Here is where the law gets a little tricky. The decision to charge someone with public intoxication is at the discretion of the police officer you encounter. They are not required to perform a breathalyzer test, but they do need to establish probable cause.
It is also worth noting that just being drunk in public is not enough for a charge. The behavior and actions must be consistent with someone who is likely to be a danger to themselves or someone else.
This can be quite subjective and depends largely on the opinion and experience of the officer.
There are several examples of probable cause. Were you stumbling around and unable to walk? Did you have bloodshot eyes or a strong smell of alcohol on your breath or clothes? Were you being unruly, loud, or combative with others?
If you believe you may have a drinking problem, find resources here.
Consequences of Public Intoxication Charge
As previously mentioned, a public intoxication charge is a misdemeanor, but it can still have a negative impact on your life. There are two ways a police officer can handle a situation where they believe someone is drunk in public.
An arrest can be made on the spot. If that happens, you will be taken to jail and booked on the charge. You must then arrange bail or contact a lawyer to get you released. You will then receive a date to appear at court for your plea.
The officer can decide not to arrest you and just give a summons to appear in court for the citation of public intoxication. There is a date you must appear and if you fail to show up, an arrest is next.
If found guilty, you can be made to serve up to 90 days in jail in New Orleans or Jefferson. This could result in losing your job and other embarrassing side effects. There is also a fine you would be required to pay.
In addition, the charge will remain on your criminal record. These all have long-lasting effects on your life. It would serve you well to try and fight the charge and move on with your life.
Defense for a Public Intoxication Charge
The hardest part about proving you are innocent of being drunk and disorderly in public often comes down to your word against the officer’s word.
It is not illegal to only be intoxicated in public, so there is no need to administer a test. The charge stems from the disorderly part.
In fact, public intoxication falls under the umbrella of disturbing the peace. It is not a matter of proving you weren’t drunk, it’s trying to show you were not being disruptive or a danger.
If you were with other people, it would certainly help if you had witnesses to testify on your behalf. If multiple people are willing to say you were not being unruly or causing a disturbance, it could work in your favor with the court.
Another defense is if you can prove you weren’t in a public space. This may be harder to prove if your arrest or citation was on the street or at a venue, but if you can show you were at a private residence or gathering you may be able to have the charges dropped.
Of course, you always have the defense that you were not even drinking. There can be no public intoxication without consuming alcohol.
This can be difficult to prove as well, but if you have receipts from restaurants that show only non-alcoholic drink purchases those could be entered as evidence. Again, any friends or witnesses to the event could also testify that you had not been drinking.
These kinds of defenses are risky without back-up evidence when you have the word of the police officer stating different information.
Don’t Gamble With Your Future
You are not required to have a New Orleans criminal lawyer present during your court proceeding, but considering the potential outcome, it is advisable to have an experienced attorney on your side to fight on your behalf.
A charge of public intoxication is not something to take lightly. It can have a long term impact on the rest of your life.
For more information on how we can help with this charge or other legal matters, please reach out.