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In North Carolina, public intoxication is not illegal. However, there are many illegal behaviors associated with drinking to excess in public. Many face charges of “Intoxicated and disruptive.” If convicted, you could face up to 20 days in prison, a probationary period, or a community program. Let’s look at some of the ways you can face charges for drunk and disruptive behavior. 

What is Public Intoxication?

“Intoxication” is a condition in which your mental or physical functioning is presently substantially impaired from alcohol. A “public place” is anywhere open to the public, whether publicly or privately owned. In some states, it is illegal to be intoxicated in public. However, in NC, it is only illegal if you are also disruptive. If you receive a charge of intoxicated and disruptive, you can face Class 3 misdemeanor penalties, including jail time. 

If you are drunk but not disruptive, the state does not prosecute for public intoxication. The court may not legally prosecute you solely for intoxication in a public place. However, law enforcement officers may assist you instead if drunk in a public place. 

To receive a charge of intoxicated and disruptive, behavior that causes police to arrest or cite you includes:

  • Blocking or otherwise interfering with traffic on a highway or public vehicular area
  • Blocking, lying across, or preventing access to a sidewalk or entrance to a building
  • Grabbing, shoving, pushing or fighting others or challenging others to fight
  • Cursing or shouting at or otherwise rudely insulting others
  • Begging for money or other property

Drunken Behavior

If you drink too much occasionally, you probably don’t worry too much about drinking in public. However, public intoxication causes many individuals to commit actions that can bring  legal trouble. According to The American Psychological Association, “Drinking alcohol clearly has important effect on social behaviors, such as increasing aggression, self-disclosure, sexual adventuresomeness, and so on.”

The Alcohol Rehab Guide states that “Data suggests that engaging in prolonged drinking or binge drinking significantly increases your risk of committing violent offenses.” If your aggression or drunken behaviors get out of hand, you can face arrest for charges you wouldn’t usually face, such as:

  • assault
  • battery
  • public indecency
  • disorderly conduct
  • drug possession, etc.

Law Enforcement Actions

Many people who catch the attention of law enforcement for drunk and disruptive behavior face arrest and an overnight stay in jail. However, there is another way that an officer may act. A law enforcement officer can legally take you to a shelter or a healthcare facility instead of the police station if you are drunk and disruptive.

For example, if you yelled at someone in a bar and called them names, the owner of the establishment might call the police. However, by the time an officer arrives, perhaps you have cooled off. Or maybe you passed out.

If the officer sees you have nowhere to go or need medical help, they can assist you. They may still give you a citation, however.

In this case, you don’t face arrest, but you still must go to court for your citation in the future. 

Underage Public Intoxication

If you are underage and publicly intoxicated, you face other consequences. According to the NCDPS, “a person under the age of 21 caught purchasing, attempting to purchase or possessing alcohol will be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. Sentencing is left to the judge’s discretion. If convicted, the Division of Motor Vehicles revokes that person’s driver’s license.”

If you are 19 or 20, you can still face Class 3 misdemeanor charges and fines up to $200, along with the loss of your driver’s license.

Drinking Alcohol in Public

In NC, it is illegal to consume alcohol on property controlled by the city, on a public road, or in a parking lot. It’s also illegal to possess and intend to drink alcohol within 50 feet of any:

  • Park
  • Swimming pool
  • Playing field
  • Playground 
  • Recreational facility

It is also illegal to consume alcohol at a sidewalk cafe unless they have the proper ABC permits. If a city council has adopted a resolution making provisions for beer or wine at a special event, then consumption is legal for the event.

Defenses to Drunk and Disruptive

If you suffer from alcoholism, the court may look at your case differently. A person suffering from “alcoholism” under NC state law uses alcoholic beverages to the extent that his health is substantially impaired or endangers his social or economic function dramatically.

If your attorney uses alcoholism to defend your charge of “intoxicated and disruptive in a public place,” the presiding judge may consider your defense valid. Even if you do not raise the issue of suffering from alcoholism, the judge may consider this defense for 15 days while requesting information to determine if you suffer from alcoholism. A judge may ask an alcoholism court counselor to review your drinking history. 

If you are an alcoholic, the judge may acquit you of all charges. However, the judge may retain jurisdiction over you for 15 days as they determine whether you are a substance abuser or dangerous to yourself or others. If you appear to be dangerous to yourself or others, the judge may take you into custody for an examination to determine whether to commit you for treatment involuntarily. 

We Can Help

Whether you face charges for drunk and disruptive or other criminal behavior, we can defend your rights. We work with all levels of the court system in North Carolina to achieve your best outcome. Our extensive experience in criminal law shows us that it is often possible to receive deferred, reduced, or even dismissed charges for our clients. Often, clients with substance abuse disorders may receive admittance into a diversion program or community counseling. Contact us today and find out how we can help you get through this struggle and find your way back into your best life. 

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