Criminal Defense Attorney Charged with Disorderly Intoxication

Alcohol can often lead a Jekyll and Hyde phenomena that causes normally intelligent people to make very poor decisions, and alcohol negatively impacts everyone, including criminal defense attorneys. According to a newspaper report, a Florida criminal defense attorney was recently arrested and charged with Disorderly Intoxication after getting into a drunken argument in public with his girlfriend.  Shortly before midnight, police responded to a physical disturbance report occurring at a Wawa gas station. The police arrived on scene and spoke with the alleged victim, which was the attorney’s girlfriend. She advised that her boyfriend had imbibed a bit too much alcohol at a nearby bar, and they had gotten into an argument at the Wawa. The police spoke with the man, and he made sure to let them know that he was well known criminal defense attorney that knew the law very well and knew that he had done nothing wrong.  He admitted to drinking earlier, but he emphasized that he had not been driving and thereby had not committed any legal violation. The police disagreed with his legal assessment and arrested him for Disorderly Intoxication.  Is being drunk in public a crime?

Pennsylvania Public Drunkenness Charge

If this had occurred in Pennsylvania, the defense attorney would be facing a summary charge of Public Drunkenness under 18 Pa.C.S. 5505. Despite the title of the charge, just being drunk and in public is not a crime. The charge actually prohibits a person from being intoxicated to the extent that the person “may endanger himself or other persons or property, or annoy persons in his vicinity.” Basically, it is illegal to be so drunk that a person causes a public inconvenience or poses a danger to him or herself.

In order to convict a person of Public Drunkenness, there must be proof: 1) that the person was drunk or under the influence of drugs; 2) the person was in “public”; AND 3) the person posed a danger to himself or public inconvenience. Being drunk or under the influence is often proven with circumstantial evidence and not forensic evidence, meaning the police rarely have breath or blood tests in these types of cases. Circumstantial evidence is the proverbial “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck.”  With alcohol intoxication, the police often prove that a person is drunk by testifying that the person smelled like alcohol, had slurred speech, had difficulty standing, and had blood shot eyes.  In more extreme cases, the police may have noticed that the person urinated in their pants, is covered in vomit, or has scrapes and bruises from falling down.  That evidence is sufficient for a judge to find that the person was drunk.

“Public” means that the area is generally accessible to the public. Areas that have restricted access are not “public.” For example, a dorm building on a college campus does not allow access to the general public, so it would not be considered “public” for the Public Drunkenness law. In this case, the Wawa parking lot was clearly a public place.

With regard to proving a danger or public inconvenience, the belligerent drunk that is argumentative and yelling is a public inconvenience. With regard to public safety, clients that pass out while outdoors in the middle of winter are in danger. People that are having difficulty walking pose a danger to themselves. People that are so intoxicated that they don’t know their name or where they live pose a danger to themselves.

While the Florida defense attorney argued that he did nothing illegal, he most likely would be convicted of Public Drunkenness in Pennsylvania.  He was intoxicated, he was in public, and his yelling and fighting with his girlfriend would constitute a public inconvenience and possibly a danger to others.

Punishment for Public Drunkenness

A conviction of Public Drunkenness allows for a fine of up to $500.00 for a first offense and up to $1,000.00 for subsequent offenses. If this were a first time offense of Public Drunkenness in State College, the matter can often be resolved via a diversionary program that allows the charge to be dismissed and then expunged.