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What is Public Intoxication in Indiana?

Public intoxication is a vague description for a law.  It is even more confusing if the law simply says that it is a crime to be drunk in public.  What is considered drunk, and when does it rise to the level of a crime?

Indiana recently implemented a new public intoxication law that includes different requirements than the previous law, making some of these issues slightly more clear by defining what actions will constitute criminal activity.  The Indiana Court of Appeals took up the issue in a case this year known as Milam v. Indiana.  In that case, the court found that a passenger in a car who was intoxicated could not be found guilty of public intoxication for arguing with another passenger and the police officer.

So, what is public intoxication under the new law and who can be found guilty?  The answer is a little more complicated than it seems, but the recent case sheds some light on the law and is good news for defendants.

The New Law

The new Indiana law about public intoxication states that, in order for a person to be found guilty of public intoxication, one of the following must be present:

  •      The person has endangered his or her life;
  •      The person has endangered the life of another;
  •      The person has breached the peace; or
  •      The person has harassed, annoyed, or alarmed another person.

This severely limits the ability of the state to prosecute public intoxication.  The previous law made prosecution of public intoxication much more simple–a person could be found guilty of public intoxication by simply being drunk in a public place.

To read the complete text of the law, click here.

The Case: Milam v. Indiana

In the Milam case, the defendant was a passenger in a car.  The car was stopped by a police officer due to some suspicious circumstances.  After he was stopped, the defendant and another passenger admitted to drinking.  They then began to argue.  The argument continued between the two passengers and the police officer, who then arrested the defendant for public intoxication, stating that he believed the defendant was breaching the peace.  The Court found that this was not sufficient to reach the level of public intoxication.  The implication of the case is that there must really be something more than mere intoxication for an arrest to be valid.  The state must prove one of the elements listed above clearly in order for a court to convict a person of public intoxication.

To read the full case text, click here.

What does this mean for you?

The implications of this case are huge for anyone arrested for public intoxication.  If you or someone you know has been arrested or convicted of public intoxication under the new criminal code, you may have an argument under this new case law.  Our office can help you make that argument in court.  Contact our office or visit our website to learn more about our practice.

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