Legalese — Public Intoxication

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The end of school is nigh, which means the beginning of summer, which means the season for outdoor barbecues and parties is upon us.  More often than not, the burger or pulled pork is accompanied by sweet tea, here in the south, but also by a beer or two.

So how do you avoid a public intoxication charge?  Is that the same as having a mint julep or two on the front porch, which is only twenty feet from the public sidewalk?

The code section defining the crime of public intoxication, O.C.G.A. § 16-11-41(a), says “A person who shall be and appear in an intoxicated condition in any public place or within the curtilage of any private residence not his own other than by invitation of the owner or lawful occupant, which condition is made manifest by boisterousness, by indecent condition or act, or by vulgar, profane, loud, or unbecoming language, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

So what does that mean in English?

It means that you can be drunk at your own house, or in a private residence at which you have permission to be.  The yard of that house is part of the ‘curtilage’ so it is ok to be drunk on the porch or in the backyard, so long as it is ok for you to be there at all.  If you are in the street, or a public parking lot, or a store, bar, restaurant, or retail establishment, you are not in a private residence, so you can be charged with public intoxication there.  This may seem strange – after all, isn’t a bar a place where you are supposed to drink?  Yes, and you may, and you may become intoxicated.  Just not crude and obnoxious intoxicated.

Unlike DUI, there isn’t a ‘legal limit’ for being intoxicated for purposes of this law.  Rather, you are considered drunk if you are rowdy, nekkid (not to be confused with naked), obscene, loud, or crude.  In other words, a drunk that affects other people.  If you are sitting quietly somewhere, it doesn’t matter how drunk you are, for purposes of this law.  If you are loud and obnoxious, it doesn’t matter if you would blow lower than the ‘legal limit’ on an Intoxilyzer.  How you ‘hold your liquor’ matters for this law.

This is only the State law, however, and many municipalities, counties, cities, and towns have their own laws.  In fact, the legislature has specifically given the cities permission to make their own laws about this sort of thing depending upon the norms in that particular community.  O.C.G.A. § 16-11-41(b) says, “This Code section shall not be construed to affect the powers delegated to counties or to municipal corporations to pass laws to punish drunkenness or disorderly conduct within their respective limits.”  So, make sure you know what the laws are in the city or county you are in before so you know how to act accordingly.

Of course, like anything (and everything) else, drinking responsibly is the key.  As an adult, 21 years of age or older, there is nothing wrong with partaking in whatever you want to partake in.  Just don’t get behind the wheel, and don’t be obnoxious.  If you don’t call attention to yourself, attention by the authorities won’t be had.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being provided for informational purposes only.  No lawyer can advise you on your situation without hearing the specifics of your individual case.

About Lori Duff 352 Articles
Lori is the author of the bestselling collection of humor essays, "Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza" currently available exclusively on Amazon. In order to finance her writing habit, she is a practicing lawyer with Jones & Duff, LLC. She is married to Mike Duff, who is a retired DeKalb County Public Safety Officer, and has two amazing children who make cameo embarrassing appearances in her blog posts and who attend Walton County Public Schools. Her legal column, "Legalese", is meant to de-mystify and humanize the Court system. When asked about her writing, Lori says, "Life is too short not to laugh at every available opportunity. My goal is to make myself laugh -- and hopefully you will laugh along with me."

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