It is not a criminal offense in Pennsylvania to be under the influence or intoxicated in public. Instead, a charge of public drunkenness, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5505, prohibits a person from being in any "public place manifestly under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance ... to the degree that he may endanger himself or other persons or property, or annoy persons in his vicinity." To summarize, the person must be under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent that the person is a danger to him or herself or annoys nearby people.
In order to prove that a person is intoxicated to a level that poses a danger, the police do not need to utilize a breath or blood test as the charge does not require any evidence of alcohol concentration. Instead, cases are generally proven by circumstantial evidence, such as a person's inability to walk, stumbling into traffic, falling asleep or passing out on a bench in the winter, or being transported to the hospital for an alcohol overdose.
It is a Summary Offense, But it Still Shows in Background Checks
A charge of public drunkenness is a nontraffic summary offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail. With regard to a fine, a first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $500, but second and subsequent offenses can receive a fine of up to $1,000. While summary offenses are the least severe criminal offense in Pennsylvania, such offenses are appearing much more frequently on criminal background searches.
Current Pennsylvania law does allow for the expungement of a summary offense like public drunkenness IF the person has remained free of arrest and prosecution for five years following the conviction or guilty plea on the charge.
However, it must be emphasized that the expungement of a summary offense in this context is not automatic and it is not mandatory. Instead, a person must file an expungement petition with the Court of Common Pleas in the county in which the case arose. After the expungement petition is filed, the matter will then be considered by the court and the district attorney. While a person is eligible for expungement, a district attorney may still oppose the expungement of the record. If the district attorney opposes the expungement, then the decision will be made by the judge.
The Best Decision is to Talk to a Lawyer
If you or a loved one is charged with public drunkenness, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney who has experience in representing clients in that county. As a State College defense lawyer since 2004, Attorney Jason S. Dunkle has represented many Penn State students charged with public drunkenness, Underage Drinking, and other summary offenses.
While some cases do proceed to a summary trial, many cases are resolved via agreements with the officer and judge in which a client pays court costs and completes alcohol programs and community service in exchange for a dismissal of the charge. Contact the experienced criminal defense team at JD Law, P.C., at 814-954-1094 or via email for a free consultation.