You're out drinking with friends. You're a little tipsy. Maybe your blood alcohol content (BAC) level is just under 0.08, the legal limit to drive, but that doesn't matter because you're not driving anyway. You decide to walk home, or to a friend's house, or to another bar. You're swaying and laughing, and it's all taking place along the sidewalk of downtown Atlanta. You're doing nothing wrong, right? That's what you think, after all, you didn't drink and drive. But you are walking along a roadway, intoxicated, though again not enough that disqualifies you from legally driving, and an officer comes over to check on you. You get mad because you aren't drunk, you aren't driving, but you are acting a little erratic. And before you know what just happened, you landed yourself a Pedestrian Under the Influence citation and a subsequent arrest.
In Georgia, there are so many things to do, restaurants to dine at, bars to dance at, outdoor events and festivals to attend. It is not uncommon to have people outside enjoying an alcoholic beverage. The problem arises when walking along the roadway and potentially putting yourself and/or others in harm's way. You need to know that if you are in Georgia, intoxicated, and walking outside and on the side of a roadway, you could potentially be cited for it.
Pedestrian Under the Influence (PUI): What It Means in Georgia
According to Georgia Code, § 40-6-95 (2016):
A person who is under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug to a degree which renders him a hazard shall not walk or be upon any roadway or the shoulder of any roadway. Violation of this Code section is a misdemeanor and is punishable upon conviction by a fine not to exceed $500.00.
What this means is simple: you drink or do drugs to the extent it causes you to be disruptive and a danger to either yourself or the public, and you walk on or alongside a road, you can be cited and convicted for PUI. The charge is highly subjective on the part of the police officer citing you for it. Though generally, you may be a law-abiding citizen who may have thought you were doing nothing wrong, and in fact, in your mind at least you were doing something right by not driving, it doesn't matter: once charged and convicted for PUI, you have a criminal record.
There are five things you should keep in mind the next time you go out drinking and then walk outside:
- BAC level. Unlike a DUI that has a legal limit of 0.08 BAC, there is no legal BAC limit for a PUI charge; it depends largely on your behavior, i.e., you pose a danger to yourself or others. You could have a 0.02 BAC and still, theoretically, be charged with a PUI.
- Reasonable Belief. You can be arrested for a PUI if the situation merits it according to the police officer's perception. The officer is not required to administer a field sobriety test or chemical test in order to determine your BAC level before arresting you, if the latter is what the police officer deems necessary in the given circumstances. The officer only needs to have a reasonable belief that you are under the influence, and this reasonable belief can result from but is not limited to the smell of alcohol or drugs, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, stumbling, fumbling, unsteadiness.
- Behavior. As mentioned, your behavior matters. Two things are important: (1) if walking after drinking, don't walk alongside or on a road because this poses a danger to you and to drivers; and (2) if in a public space, don't be loud or obnoxious or do anything that draws unwanted attention to you or makes you appear drunk even if you are not.
- Fine. If convicted, there is a fine of up to $500. If you cannot afford the full $500, you can be put on probation to pay for it.
- Collateral Consequences. If you plead guilty or are convicted of a PUI, you have a criminal record. Depending on your career aspirations or social reputation, a PUI can damage your status. Additionally, if you seek housing, it could hurt your application for a nice apartment if the landlord conducts a background check.
Public Intoxication v. Pedestrian Under the Influence
Do you know the difference between public intoxication and pedestrian under the influence? By the names alone, it seems they would be pretty much the same; even police officers get the two charges confused often. There are, however, distinct differences.
Public Intoxication. GA Code § 16-11-41 does not attach a specific penalty to the violation of this code. As such and because it is a misdemeanor, the fine could be up to $1,000. The code defines public intoxication, also known as public drunkenness, with the following qualifications:
- appearing intoxicated in a public place or a private place if permission has not been granted to be there; and
- being boisterous, vulgar, loud, or profane; or
- appearing in an indecent condition or performing an indecent act, e.g., being nude or urinating in public.
Pedestrian Under the Influence. As noted above, GA Code § 40-6-95 is punishable with a fine up to $500, and a PUI charge is subject to the following qualifications:
- under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- presentation of a hazardous condition; and
- walking on or alongside a roadway.
A PUI is much more specific than a public intoxication charge. First, the PUI requires that you actually be intoxicated even though there is no legal minimum or limit, while public intoxication is just a matter of appearing intoxicated but not actually, technically, being intoxicated. A PUI also requires the element of danger to yourself or others while public intoxication requires no such element, only the element of basically being obnoxious or indecent. Finally, and more importantly, a PUI requires that you actually be on the road or alongside it walking while public intoxication could be anywhere: a park, or a private yard, uninvited. PUI tends to be more objective with regard to the qualifying elements while public intoxication can possibly carry with it a larger fine.
Even though the two charges are quite different, police officers get them confused and will often cite a person with the wrong charge. If so, an attorney can help you get the matter dismissed. If not, an attorney can still help by investigating the case and challenging the specific elements of the charge.
Contact a DUI/PUI Defense Attorney
Being charged with a PUI can be shocking for many law-abiding citizens. If you have been charged with a PUI, you should contact an experienced Hall County DUI attorney to help you defend the charge. Richard Lawson has two decades of experience committed to defending people just like you who find themselves in an unwanted position. Richard Lawson's practice is always available to take your call at 404-816-4440, or by an online request for a free consultation. Convictions don't wait, so you shouldn't wait either!