There's a lot of outdoorsy, entertaining things to do throughout Hall County, Georgia, from Lake Lanier to the Gainesville Square. Often, alcoholic beverages play a role in these entertainment or recreational activities. On some occasions, the fun can turn problematic when public intoxication becomes an issue, and it becomes an issue when a person's behavior -- influenced by the alcohol -- becomes a problem. If you have been charged with public drunkenness, you should not take it lightly. Contact award-winning DUI lawyer Richard Lawson for legal assistance today.
Public Drunkenness: What It Means in Hall County, Georgia
According to OCGA § 16-11-41(a), public drunkenness means (1) that a person has the appearance of “an intoxicated condition” while “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”; and (2) “which condition is made manifest by boisterousness, by indecent condition or act, or by vulgar, profane, loud, or unbecoming language.”
Elements of a Public Drunkenness Offense
Anyone in Georgia can be charged with public drunkenness if he or she is in a public place and -- due to his or her behavior -- appears intoxicated. To understand the specifics of this offense is to understand the specifics of the terms within the language of the statute.
- Appearing intoxicated is more than just appearance, but that the person was with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit (0.08%).
- Public places includes local streets, parks, schools and any other open area.
- Private residence refers to the residence of another person and not the home of the suspected publicly intoxicated person. A private residence includes the actual dwelling space and adjacent or surrounding areas of the dwelling space (e.g., driveway, courtyard, front yard).
- Condition of public drunkenness refers to any characteristic of intoxication, including a BAC of 0.08% or more, a public disturbance, or behavior that poses a threat or danger to others.
Behavioral Characteristics that Indicate Intoxication
Characteristics of Intoxication are signaled by the intoxicated person's behavior. The statute specifies what those behavioral characteristics are, and what those specific behaviors mean in practice are described below.
- Boisterousness is associated with rough or violent conduct absent restraint or discipline.
- Indecent condition or act can include any act that goes against the morals of society, including urinating, exposing genital areas, or making lewd gestures.
- Vulgar and profane terms are terms censored on the radio, public broadcasts, and some writing, and this includes obscenities or fighting words.
- Loud refers to sound either made vociferously or manually, i.e., singing, laughing, or hitting things.
- Unbecoming language is used as a “catchall” to include any other act that may be construed as characteristic of a person drunk in public.
Consequences of Public Drunkenness Conviction
Many times, if a person is in public and intoxicated, he or she is issued a warning. Other times, he or she is cited and escorted to jail for the night. If the public drunkenness charge materializes into a conviction, you may face jail time, fines, or both.
A public drunkenness conviction is a misdemeanor that carries with it a sentence of up to one year in jail, or up to a $1,000 fine, or both. The penalty you receive will be decided by the court, which often considers your past criminal history, concurrent offenses, and the judge presiding over your case. Separate municipalities within Hall County may have additional penalties in accordance with their specific local ordinances.
The penalties for public intoxication seem relatively minor, but the true consequences of the conviction may be felt outside the court-ordered sentence. A criminal record can make it difficult for someone who seeks employment, housing, or education. A minor crime can carry with it serious collateral consequences. Never assume it is easier to plead guilty; fighting for your rights and a clean record is always in your best interests.
Defenses to Prevent a Conviction
If you have been charged with public intoxication in Hall County, Georgia, you should know there are several good defenses to the charge. Never enter a plea of guilty or no contest until you speak with a reputable DUI lawyer because he or she may identify a good defense for you that will produce a successful outcome: dismissal. Three common defenses include:
- Absence of intoxication. Police officers do not typically administer a breathalyzer test when charging a person of public intoxication. Without this test, it is difficult to prove you were under the influence. Likewise, it is difficult for the defense to prove, especially since evidence will be the testimony of the arresting officer, which the judge and jury are biased towards believing.
- Absence of harm. Essential to the establishment that you were intoxicated is testimony that you acted in a vulgar manner. The officer must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your behavior represented one of the characteristics listed in the statute. If you were not presenting yourself as a hazard to others, then the is no public intoxication case.
- Absence of public place or private residence without owner's consent. To be arrested for public intoxication, you must be on public property or at a residence without the dweller's consent, so if neither of these elements are present, the offense of public intoxication was not committed. Police officers cannot coerce you to come onto public property just so they can cite you with the charge.
Other Charges Associated with Public Intoxication
Accompanying the charge of Public Drunkenness is often Disorderly Conduct, Trespassing, or Assault. A person may be charged disorderly conduct while publicly drunk if he or she was “disturbing the peace” of others. Trespassing often happens because the public drunk stumbles onto private property, thus, trespassing. Assault happens when a public drunk becomes too rowdy and provokes a fight with someone else.
On the other hand, a public drunk charge is often confused with a Pedestrian Under the Influence (PUI) offense, but the two are quite dissimilar and are usually not charged concurrently. A PUI involves a publicly intoxicated person, but the person must be walking on or alongside a roadway and present a hazardous condition. Penalties for a PUI conviction, i.e., a fine up to $500, is less than penalties assigned to a public intoxication conviction.
Contact a DUI Defense Attorney in Hall County
Being charged with public drunkenness can be shocking for many law-abiding citizens, especially if you are taken to jail for the night. If you have been charged with this offense, you should contact an experienced Hall County DUI attorney to help you defend yourself. 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 online request for a free consultation. Convictions don't wait, so you shouldn't wait either!