Have you been charged with drunk in public, public swearing, or public intoxication? If you have, then read this guide before deciding whether to pay the fine. After all, Drunk in Public is a misdemeanor offense in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The applicable state statute is section 18.2-388, although its possible that you were charged under a different county law. According to this section, "If any person profanely curses or swears or is intoxicated in public, whether such intoxication results from alcohol, narcotic drug or other intoxicant or drug of whatever nature, he shall be deemed guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor. In any area in which there is located a court-approved detoxification center a law-enforcement officer may authorize the transportation, by police or otherwise, of public inebriates to such detoxification center in lieu of arrest; however, no person shall be involuntarily detained in such center."
What the Government Must Prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The government must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the person charged is in fact drunk in a public area. Essentially, the prosecution must prove the following: 1) that the crime took place in public; and 2) that the individual was intoxicated.
Defending Yourself Against a Drunk in Public Charge -- Definition of "In Public"
A public areas is considered as a place in open view, visible to the community. This would include an outdoor area, such as a yard, parking lot, or even a front porch. Accordingly, this area can be owned by you, so long as it is visible to others. Virginia's definition of "public" is rather expansive.
Defending Yourself Against a Drunk in Public Charge -- Definition of "Intoxicated"
Under Va. Code Ann. section 4.1-100, an individual is intoxicated if he "has drunk enough alcoholic beverages to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior." The key takeaway from this is that behavior, NOT appearance, is punished under this code section. Well, what does this mean? It means that blood-shot watery eyes, glassy eyes, or even the strong odor of alcohol is not enough to sustain a conviction under the statute. The complaining witness (usually a police officer) must prove that you actually behaved in an intoxicated manner. If you hire a lawyer, he or she will likely assert that there was no behavior depicting intoxication. Further, your attorney will likely cross-examine the officer to establish that no field sobriety tests, or other general behavior was observed for a court to find you guilty of being drunk in public.
While you may have the opportunity to pay a simple fine after being charged with a Drunk in Public offense, the repercussions can be severe. After all, you will be pleading to a misdemeanor offense. Before making this decision, I encourage you to speak with a local attorney to discuss any viable defenses that you may have. Your attorney may be able to work out a plea deal with the prosecution that may eliminate a conviction for a criminal offense.
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