What is the Public Intoxication Law in Florida?

Fri, Nov 27, 2015

General Legal Issues

3637758402_e300677769_bBeing falling-down drunk is not attractive, that’s for sure. Also, this behavior can be illegal if you are out in public causing a ruckus or endangering others. The laws regarding this type of offense are left up to the individual states. In Florida it is a second degree misdemeanor.

Public intoxication (sometimes called drunk and disorderly) is addressed in the Florida Statutes, in Statute 856.011.  There it states that No person in the state 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 or upon any public conveyance and cause a public disturbance.”

The law goes further to say what happens to habitual offenders. A habitual offender is defined as Any person who shall have been convicted or have forfeited collateral under the provisions of subsection (1) three times in the preceding 12 months.” The habitual offender is then allowed to be admitted for “appropriate” treatment.

However, the person must truly be causing a disturbance of a degree that is threatening or seriously disturbing others. So even though you may feel that someone’s drunk behavior is unseemly, their behavior must be truly disruptive or dangerous to be considered illegal.

Drunk and disorderly conduct definitions have certainly changed over the years. It might be more tolerated in some eras, less in others, and overshadowed by other types of crimes even. This website discusses the jail built on Anna Maria Island for the drunk and disorderly in 1927. One can only imagine what drunk and disorderly might have meant then.

And, of course, the law enforcement officers involved and the situation surrounding those who are drunk and disorderly can affect the outcome of charges or actual pressing of charges. For instance, a sports event or celebratory festival might have more than its fair share of drunk and disorderly people. How do you choose who needs to be arrested? Sometimes this needs to be done quickly and the choice might not always be consistent.

Sometimes drunk and disorderly is the only applicable charge for someone who is causing lots of trouble that is somewhat undefinable. Thus, the charge can be disputed: there are even attorneys who specialize defending this type of case.

Another charge that might go along with drunk and disorderly crimes is an open container charge. This is a charge often related to being in a vehicle, however it can apply should you leave a restaurant or bar with an open container. Florida statutes say ““Road” means a way open to travel by the public, including, but not limited to, a street, highway, or alley. The term includes associated sidewalks, the roadbed, the right-of-way, and all culverts, drains, sluices, ditches, water storage areas, embankments, slopes, retaining walls, bridges, tunnels, and viaducts necessary for the maintenance of travel and all ferries used in connection therewith.” Thus, the use of the word sidewalk means that walking out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk with the drink could land you a ticket for this offense. (An open container is a container that has a broken seal and some of the contents consumed.) However, there are some intricate rules to an open container situation many times dependent upon the specific municipality where the offense takes place. Thus, there are attorneys who specialize in this field also.

Sarasota discusses open container here, in their municipal code. It defines open container to be “Open Container shall mean any can, glass, bottle, carton, cup or other receptacle capable of containing liquid and which is opened or so configured that a person can drink therefrom and which contains any amount of Alcoholic Beverage: any commercially marketed Alcoholic Beverage, including beer, wine or liquor, the container of which is opened or has been opened; any Alcoholic Beverage container that is marketed with a seal that must be broken to be opened and such seal is broken; opened but empty Alcoholic Beverage containers that are commercially marketed, such as beer, wine, liquor, gin, vodka or other Alcoholic Beverages.”

The code goes on further to say It shall be unlawful for any person to possess an Open Container or consume an Alcoholic Beverage upon any Public Right-of-Way in the unincorporated area of Sarasota County. A person shall be deemed in possession of an Open Container if said person handles the Open Container or the Open Container is in the clothes or on the body of the person.”

However, as we discussed previously on our blog, it is ok to have alcohol on many Sarasota beaches including Siesta Beach. So, to be able to drink it means it is an open container. Interesting, huh? Of course, as discussed in that post, Manatee County does not allow alcohol on the beach. We found this interesting old document online from the 1980s that discusses some ideas about Manatee County instituting an open container ordinance.

Attorney Christopher D. Smith, Sr. is designated a Board Certified Consumer Bankruptcy Lawyer by the American Board of Certification.  SmithLaw is located in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.  Attorney Smith concentrates on bankruptcy, civil litigation, probate, estate planning, and elder exploitation cases in the Sarasota and Bradenton area.  Call 941-202-2222 to learn more.  SmithLaw offers free consultations in certain areas, including consumer bankruptcy, probate, and personal injury matters.

Image: Some rights reserved by arvindgrover

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