I was charged with public intoxication at my cousin’s house while we were watching an Alabama football game. His neighbor called the police on us. My court date is in three weeks and I need to know if this will affect my CDL and my job. My cousin says just plead guilty and pay the fine and it will not go on my record. What should I do?
Roger R., Alabama
Public intoxication, or in some jurisdictions called drunk and disorderly, is the offense of appearing in a public place while under the influence of alcohol or drugs as defined by your home state of Alabama. Acting drunk is not a crime but if your actions annoy another person(s) with your offensive or boisterous behavior, or if your actions endanger you or another person or property, you may be guilty of public intoxication which has a maximum jail sentence for 30 days and a fine up to $200 (Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-7, 13A-5-12, 13A-11-10).
Public intoxication must be in a public place and Alabama defines a ‘public place’ as a place the public or a substantial group of people have access. Here are a few examples of public places: highways, schools, parks, common areas of apartment buildings, amusement places, transportations facilities, even a car parked near a public thoroughfare.
So what is not a public place?
Alabama law states that no private dwelling, and no place used for a private gathering is considered a public place as long as the person has been invited to the private gathering. This is how you can rent a private room at a club or restaurant and not violate the law because that private room is not accessible by the general public, only the people invited.
So what could you claim as a defense to the public intoxication charge?
First, and most important, you could claim you were not in a public place or on public property as defined by the law. Your cousin’s back yard is private property and you were invited.
Second, you could claim you were not an endangerment to yourself, to others or to property. You may have had too much to drink, but you could have the other people attending the party testify that you were not a danger to anyone or anything at the party.
Third, your activity must be boisterous and annoying to others in order to be guilty of public intoxication. In your case you were at a private party with many other guests and most people at the party were drinking and yelling “ROLL TIDE” throughout the game. Even if you annoyed the neighbor you must be guilty of all counts in order to be convicted and it appears you may have been only considered annoying.
Public intoxication by its very definition means you may be an endangerment to yourself or others, yet the officers just wrote you a ticket, told you to keep it down (lower the noise), and drove off. It appears they violated their own responsibility to protect you from yourself and others from you by not arresting you and taking you to jail for your own protection if they believed you met the criteria for public intoxication. It appears to me the officers could have ticketed you and others for excess noise if they could prove you exceeded the noise limit for that area (if there is a set limit).
Will this affect your CDL?
It will not because you were not in a vehicle of any kind when this occurred. In order for anything to affect your CDL it must occur while you are driving, in control of or in charge of a vehicle. This is not the case here, as you were in the backyard at a party.
Will this affect your job?
It should not unless your employer has a company policy that prohibits anyone with a drug or alcohol conviction working at their company, providing you are convicted of the charge. It appears to me that you have a good defense available to you for the public intoxication charge and you should fight it in court.