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What is the Crime of Public Drunkenness?

February 18, 2021

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

The holidays are officially over and while for most, the fallout only includes credit card bills and putting away decorations, for others it is much more serious. During the holidays, even those as unprecedented as the ones Pennsylvanians just experienced, people often enjoy cocktails and sometimes, they overindulge and then move to a public place.

When a person is found intoxicated in a public place, they may face charges of public drunkenness, such as one Pennsylvania man did just recently. Many people in the state do not realize that it is illegal to be drunk in public, or of the serious consequences they may face for public intoxication.

The Crime of Public Drunkenness in Pennsylvania

The offense of public drunkenness in Pennsylvania is found in 18 Pa. Consolidated Statutes, Title 18, Section 5505. For the prosecution to secure a conviction, they must show that you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs while you were in a public place. The only exception to this is when a person takes medication prescribed by a physician. The prosecution must also show that you were so intoxicated you posed a danger to yourself or others, or that you annoyed people in the vicinity.

Penalties for Public Drunkenness

Public drunkenness is a summary offense in Pennsylvania. In most cases, law enforcement will simply issue a ticket for the offense. The ticket will have a fine you must pay, and give you the option of going to court if you want to dispute the ticket. A ticket for public drunkenness is very similar to a speeding ticket.

The fine for public drunkenness, however, is quite steep. For a first offense, the fine is $500 and for a subsequent offense, the amount increases to $1,000. Regardless of whether a person has prior convictions for the crime, they may also face up to 90 days in jail.

Although public drunkenness is one of the less serious crimes a person could commit, you still want to avoid jail time. Even when jail time is not an issue, the charge will remain on your criminal record, so it is important to still try and beat the charges. Fortunately, there are defenses available.

Defenses to Public Drunkenness

The most common defenses to public drunkenness include:

  • You were not drunk or disorderly: It is not uncommon for law enforcement to mistake a person for being drunk and disorderly when they are simply overexcited. Sporting events are a common place for people to be charged with public drunkenness when they are just excited about the game they just saw, or are about to see.
  • You were in a private place: The crime of public drunkenness is called just that for a reason. To be charged or convicted of this crime, you must be in a public place. If you were on private property, or a police officer forced you onto public property, you cannot be found guilty of the offense.

Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in Pennsylvania Can Help with Your Charges

Public drunkenness may not sound like a serious crime, but it can have serious ramifications for your future. If you have been charged with this offense, our Allentown criminal defense lawyers at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim can help you beat the charges. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.



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