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Understanding Public Intoxication Laws in Florida

The laws for disorderly intoxication and public intoxication in Florida can cause some confusion. People are often not sure what they can and cannot do when they have had too much to drink.

One key thing to remember is that public intoxication is not a crime in Florida, unlike in some other states. Under Florida public intoxication laws, what matters is what happens while you are intoxicated – and where it occurs. Depending on the circumstances, you could be facing serious penalties that can affect your job, family, licenses, reputation, and future for a very long time.

What Is Disorderly Intoxication?

When people get arrested when they have had too much to drink, the phrase "drunk and disorderly" is often used. Officially, a drunk and disorderly charge are called disorderly intoxication, and the word 'drunk' is used synonymously with intoxication.

What is drunk and disorderly, also known as disorderly intoxication? Basically, it's a crime that law enforcement uses when arresting someone who is drunk and unruly. A couple of examples that could be disorderly intoxication and not public intoxication in Florida include:

  • Getting drunk and fighting with someone in a bar, or
  • getting drunk, walking down a city sidewalk, and then getting mad at a stranger after bumping into them, threatening them, and pushing them down on the ground

Someone can be drunk and annoying, being a minor nuisance at an outdoor festival or a bar, but this does not rise to the level of having charges slapped against you for being drunk and disorderly. Public intoxication in Florida is common, but specific conditions must be proved to be present to be considered disorderly intoxication. These are listed in the Florida Statutes for disorderly intoxication.

Disorderly Intoxication Florida Statute

The Florida Statute for disorderly intoxication Section 856.011 is as follows:

"No person in the State [of Florida] shall be intoxicated and endanger the safety of another person or property, and no person in the State shall be intoxicated or drink any alcoholic beverage in a public place or in any public conveyance and cause a public disturbance."

What this means is that one or the other of these parameters must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by prosecutors to get a conviction:

  1. The defendant was, in fact, intoxicated and did endanger the safety of another person or property, or
  2. The defendant was drinking alcohol or intoxicated in a public place or conveyance and caused a public disturbance.

The meaning of Florida public intoxication is also detailed under the same statute. The defendant in the case would be officially intoxicated if the person was:

"so affected by the alcoholic beverage as to have lost or been deprived of the normal control of either his/her body or his/her mental faculties or both."

Even if an individual facing a charge admits to drinking alcohol, whether it be to witnesses/bystanders or a law enforcement officer, that does not mean that the evidence is strong enough to prove public intoxication in Florida. However, state prosecutors can utilize that admission when attempting to obtain a conviction.

Penalties for Disorderly Intoxication in Florida

If you are convicted of disorderly intoxication in Florida, the penalties imposed by the judge can include a combination of any of the following:

  • Up to sixty days in jail
  • Up to $500 in fines
  • Up to six months of probation

Disorderly intoxication is considered a second-degree misdemeanor.

If you have been arrested for disorderly intoxication, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. In addition to the above penalties, it goes on your permanent record – for good if you get convicted. Disorderly intoxication can never be sealed or expunged from your record.

An experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney thoroughly examines the details of the case to develop the best defense for your particular situation.

Potential Defenses

There are many different approaches to defending clients because of the multitude of circumstances and situations that may exist that could cause law enforcement to arrest someone for disorderly intoxication.

Here are some of the common defenses that attorneys will utilize:

  • Public safety was not endangered
  • Not enough/no proof to determine the defendant was intoxicated
  • If a physical altercation occurred, it was self-defense
  • If a physical altercation occurred, the accused individual was defending another person(s)
  • At the time the incident/altercation occurred, it was not in a public place or conveyance
  • Disputing facts/evidence that constitutes a public disturbance

Another defense that may be used involves First Amendment/free speech issues. If no altercation was involved and the defendant had just been talking or even shouting, the First Amendment could be used as a valid defense. There is an exception. Under state law, certain words such as "fighting words" or shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater are not covered by rights to free speech.

Why Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney in Pinellas County

When you have a criminal defense attorney, you have a legal expert with the skills and knowledge to mount a strong defense against state prosecutors, which is key to getting the best outcome possible. A criminal defense attorney in Pinellas County has a comprehensive understanding of the law and how the court processes and criminal justice system work.

You don't want to "go it alone" when your freedom and future are on the line when facing potential jail time, probation, and fines. You're facing potentially serious consequences in the short and long term, and having a permanent criminal record for the rest of your life is very challenging.

Bruce Denson has more than twenty years of experience in criminal defense. He provides expert guidance each step of the way, leading as your legal advocate and working diligently to obtain the best outcome possible when people are facing difficult situations.

People make mistakes. We're here to help. Contact The Denson Firm today to set up a free, confidential consultation.

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