Public cursing (i.e., swearing in public) and public intoxication (i.e., drunk in public) are both prohibited by Virginia law. Police officers rarely charge citizens with swearing in public, but charges of public intoxication are fairly routine.
The Statute: § 18.2-388 of the Virginia Code
If any person profanely curses or swears or is intoxicated in public, whether such intoxication results from alcohol, narcotic drug or other intoxicant or drug of whatever nature, he shall be deemed guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor. In any area in which there is located a court-approved detoxification center a law-enforcement officer may authorize the transportation, by police or otherwise, of public inebriates to such detoxification center in lieu of arrest; however, no person shall be involuntarily detained in such center.
As a Class 4 Misdemeanor, it is punishable only by a fine of not more than $250.
In plain English, how can one be found guilty of public intoxication?
Actually, it’s very easy to be charged with public intoxication. Generally speaking, if you show physical signs of intoxication such as stumbling, difficulty speaking, or other outward behavioral indications of intoxications then you are “drunk” for the purposes of the statute. You are in public if you are in “open view” of homes or a public street.
The discretion provided to police is pretty broad here. We’ve even seen cases where the police have pulled over cars, noticed that the passenger was drunk, asked the passenger to step out of the car, and then written a ticket to the passenger for being drunk “in public.”
What can be done for someone that has been charged with being drunk in public?
There are a number of different strategies to deal with a drunk in public charge. The first thing to do is examine the evidence. A lawyer will ask the officer what they saw that made them think the defendant was drunk. This is often fairly straightforward. Another strategy might revolve around negotiating with the prosecutor to get the charge reduced to some non-criminal infraction. If you’re facing a public intoxication charge, you should consider consulting with an attorney to determine whether there are any possible defenses you can present.