Drunk in Public / Public Swearing and Intoxication is a Misdemeanor Criminal Offense Under Virginia Law

What is public intoxication law in Virginia? Drunk in Public or Public Intoxication is the Virginia criminal misdemeanor charge for public displays of drunkenness. Virginia law 18.2-388 punishes drunk behavior in public places. A conviction for public intoxication, or for being drunk in public, is punished by a criminal record and a fine.

Public Intoxication / Drunk in Public charges are criminal offenses, not just tickets. If you pay the fine online you are in effect pleading guilty to the charge. As such, if you wish to avoid a conviction for this crime, you should review your case with a Virginia attorney experienced in Public Intoxication defense.

THE CRIME OF BEING DRUNK IN PUBLIC

Individuals accused of being drunk in public are arrested by police and held until sober. They are then released from the jail with a ticket, summons, or recognizance. Public intoxication is described by some officers as “just a ticket that you can prepay.” This oversimplification ignores the most important element of the “ticket” – that if you pay the fine, you are pleading guilty to the misdemeanor criminal offense. You will not be able to reverse this.

VA Drunk in Public / Public Intoxication Law Explained

Virginia drunk in public law is found in Virginia Law § 18.2-388. The law states that 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.

As with any criminal matter, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged with this crime is, in fact, drunk or cursed in a public area. The prosecution must prove two essential elements to convict you of being drunk in public: 1) the crime took place in public, and 2) that you were intoxicated.

Virginia courts define the meaning of “in public,” as a place in open view, visible to the community. This includes an outdoor area owned by you but that is visible to others, such as a porch or a front yard. Virginia has a wide-reaching view of what is public.

A person is “intoxicated” under Virginia law only if he has drunk enough alcoholic beverages to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior. This part of the accusation provides some argument leeway. The police officer must testify that he observed you behaving in a manner consistent with an intoxicated person – some outward signs of having consumed alcohol. Thus, the strong smell of alcohol alone is not enough to show that someone is intoxicated for purposes of this law.

Police do not have to give you a breath test to determine if in fact you were intoxicated under the VA charge. It is enough for you to exhibit intoxicated behavior.

In order to justify an arrest for Public Intoxication, the Commonwealth must prove the odor of alcohol on a person’s breath, coupled with other circumstances, such as suspicious behavior, speech, or appearance.

Public Intoxication is a criminal offense punished by the entry of a criminal record and a maximum fine of $250. This law is also found in the local county and city codes under local law sections in Fairfax (5-1-1), Alexandria (13-1-5), Arlington (17-7), and Vienna (10-34).

An additional penalty for a criminal conviction of public drunkenness, which is commonly overlooked, is the disqualification for a concealed handgun permit under Virginia law for a period of 3 years. Moreover, substance abuse treatment in a residential setting will increase that period of disqualification to 5 years.


Virginia Public Intoxication Penalty Table

Locality Code Section Criminal Classification
Virginia 18.2-388 Class 4 Misdemeanor
Arlington 17-7 Class 4 Misdemeanor
Fairfax 5-1-1 Class 4 Misdemeanor
Alexandria 13-1-5 Class 4 Misdemeanor
Vienna 10-34 Class 4 Misdemeanor

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This article is written by Virginia public intoxication defense attorney Marina Medvin, an award-winning defense lawyer serving Alexandria, Fairfax and Arlington, VA. She successfully represents individuals charged with public intoxication crimes in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Vienna and Falls Church. Please call for a Virginia drunk in public attorney consultation request.


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DRUNK IN PUBLIC FAQ

What is drunk in public? What is public intoxication?

Public intoxication, also known as Drunk in Public is a criminal, jailable offense in Virginia for the bodily display of drunkenness in a public place. This means you can be arrested for Drunk in Public if you behave or appear intoxicated while being in a place open to public view.

Is being drunk in public a misdemeanor?

Yes, Drunk in Public a misdemeanor. It is a Class 4 Misdemeanor criminal offense under Virginia law.

Can you go to jail for public intoxication?

Yes and no. Under Virginia law, you can and will go to jail for a public intoxication misdemeanor offense when you are arrested for the offense. However, Virginia law does not impose additional jail time as punishment for the misdemeanor charge upon conviction.

Can I prepay my Virginia Drunk in Public / public intoxication offense?

Yes, however, doing so solidifies your criminal conviction under Virginia law. While the penalty will be just a fine and costs, the cost of a criminal conviction for professionals (such as teachers, doctors, lawyers) or people who hold a clearance (such as government contractors, military personnel or government employees) will be much higher than just a conviction.

Does Drunk in Public go on your record?

Yes, if convicted, Drunk in Public / Public Intoxication will go on your record and remain as a criminal misdemeanor conviction. Once a conviction takes place, if you are outside the window to appeal the conviction, you will not be able to do anything about it. A conviction for a Drunk in Public charge is not subject to expungement under Virginia law. If you do not want to have a criminal conviction on your record, you need to consult a criminal defense lawyer to discuss representation and outcome options.

Can a lawyer get my drunk in public / public intoxication charge dismissed?

Yes, a lawyer can work on your case and obtain an outcome of not guilty or dismissal. A lawyer cannot predict your case outcome, nor can a lawyer guarantee a result, but a criminal lawyer can certainly try her best to reach your desired outcome. If you do not want to have a criminal conviction on your record, you need to consult a criminal defense lawyer to discuss representation and your legal options.

 

 


Northern Virginia Public Intoxication Laws

VA Code 18.2-388 is the State law. Northern Virginia localities have adopted their own versions of the Virginia law as well. Some of the statutory wording differs, thereby changing the way that the law applies. Below are the relavant provisions:

Fairfax County: Section 5-1-1. – Drunkenness and profane swearing.
(a) If any person profanely curse or swear or be drunk in public he shall be deemed guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.
(b) If any person shall be convicted for being drunk in public three (3) times within one (1) year, such person shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.

City of Alexandria: Sec. 13-1-5 – Public intoxication.
If any person 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.

County of Arlington: § 17-7. Public Intoxication and Profanity.
A. It shall be unlawful for any person to be intoxicated or to profanely curse or swear in any public place in the County.
B. For the purposes of this section, “intoxicated” shall mean a condition in which a person has consumed enough alcoholic beverages, narcotic drugs, or other intoxicants or drugs of whatever nature, to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance, or behavior.
C. Any person convicted of such public intoxication or profanity shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.

Town of Vienna: Sec. 10-34. – Drunkenness.
If any person 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.


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