Florida Public Intoxication Laws

Florida law does not prohibit drinking alcohol in public, but it does penalize “Disorderly Intoxication.” The difference between public intoxication and disorderly intoxication is significant and it is important to understand if you are ever arrested and charged with an offense. This blog post will explain the difference between public intoxication (which is not illegal) and disorderly intoxication (which is a crime). 

 

In the Tampa and St. Pete area, Stechschulte Nell, Attorney at Law, believes everyone should be familiar with the law that governs the limits of legal conduct. Too many people find themselves facing criminal charges and then saying they didn’t know what they did was breaking the law.  

 

Avoiding illegal conduct is the best way to stay out of trouble, but if you are arrested and charged with any crime in Hillsborough County or Pinellas County, The Stechschulte Nell Law Firm are the criminal defense lawyers with the experience you need to protect you from unnecessary and unfair convictions. 

 

What Is Disorderly Intoxication? 

 

The Florida statute § 856.011 defining the criminal offense of disorderly intoxication says that no person shall 

 

  1. be intoxicated and endanger the safety of another person or property, or 
  2. be intoxicated or drink any alcoholic beverage in a public place or in or upon any public conveyance and cause a public disturbance. 

 

Anyone convicted of the offense faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. 

 

Let’s look at each of the two scenarios in which someone could violate this law, one at a time. 

 

First Allegation – Being intoxicated and endangering the safety of another person or property. 

 

There are two separate elements to this section of the criminal statute that must each be proven by the prosecutor by evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. 

 

1a. The state must prove the defendant was intoxicated. Since the person suspected of being intoxicated is not driving or in physical control of a car, the police wouldn’t ask, and the person arrested has no obligation to submit to a breathalyzer. (Drivers have consented to be tested merely by applying for a driver’s license – a concept called “implied consent.”) So, there is no “scientific” evidence of what the person’s blood alcohol level (BAC) is at the time of their arrest. 

 

Instead, the prosecution will need to rely on the police officer’s reported observations and other circumstantial evidence, such as the following: 

 

  • The odor of alcohol, marijuana, or chemicals 
  • Swaying, staggering or stumbling 
  • Unable to sit straight 
  • Thick, slurred speech 
  • Loud, noisy speech
  • Speaking loudly, then quietly 
  • Rambling train of thought 
  • Unusually fast or slow talking 
  • Bloodshot, glassy, or watery eyes 
  • Flushed face 
  • Droopy eyelids 
  • Blank stare or dazed look 
  • Twitching or body tremors 
  • Disheveled clothing 
  • Slow response to questions or comments 
  • Making irrational statements 
  • Crying 
  • Drowsiness or falling asleep 
  • Lack of focus and eye contact 

 

None of these behaviors or characteristics alone can prove intoxication, nor can any particular combination of them. However, as witnesses testify to observing more of these features displayed by the defendant, the more likely it is that a judge or jury will agree that intoxication is proved. 

 

But public intoxication alone is not against the law. The second element, “endangering the safety of another” also must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 

 

1.b The state must prove the defendant endangered the safety of another person or property. 

 

The prosecutor will also usually rely on circumstantial evidence to prove the danger to others presented by the intoxicated defendant’s condition or behavior. Staggering into the street can endanger drivers and other pedestrians who may be injured by a car swerving to avoid the defendant. But sitting on a sidewalk is not necessarily endangering anyone.  

 

Generally, the defendant’s actions serve as the basis for endangerment evidence. Trying to fight someone, or throwing objects, is more clearly conduct that would more readily be perceived as dangerous. The specific facts of each case will determine both the approach of the prosecutor and your defense attorney’s strategy in raising doubts about the state’s case against any defendant. 

 

Second Allegation — Drinking in public or being intoxicated and causing a public disturbance 

 

Another separate allegation violation of the Disorderly Intoxication statute involves either being intoxicated or merely drinking alcohol in public AND causing a public disturbance. Under this section of the law, the state need not prove any intoxication. The mere act of drinking alcohol in public serves as the first element of this offense.  

 

The prosecution also needs to prove that the defendant “caused a public disturbance.” If the defendant was merely involved in some disturbance, the defense can effectively argue that the defendant was involuntarily drawn into the situation, perhaps by being assaulted or threatened. Causing a disturbance is not the same as becoming part of a spectacle caused by others. 

 

Not only does the state need to prove the defendant caused the disturbance it must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a disturbance. Was anyone disturbed? Is there evidence to prove someone was disturbed?  And was the disturbance “in a public place?” 

 

Can swearing loudly or using profanity alone be an illegal disturbance, even if you are drinking in public? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects speech, even offensive speech if it is not accompanied by some action that changes the nature of a threatening situation. Swearing at a police officer, with or without consuming alcohol, is generally insufficient to constitute a crime. Doing so as you approach the officer within a few inches of their face is a significant action that changes the equation. 

 

Defenses to Florida Disorderly Intoxication Charges 

 

Every person who is arrested or charged with any criminal offense, whether misdemeanor or felony, should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. In Tampa, the certified criminal defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell are always ready to respond and begin working on your behalf. 

 

When charged with Disorderly Intoxication, skilled lawyers will analyze the facts of your case and use any of the following defenses to prevent a wrongful conviction: 

 

  • No person or property was ever endangered by the defendant or their actions 
  • Insufficient evidence to prove the defendant was intoxicated 
  • Insufficient proof the defendant was drinking alcohol in public 
  • The defendant’s involvement in any disturbance was self-defense or in the defense of another person 
  • Insufficient evidence that disturbance occurred 
  • Any disturbance that did occur was not in a public place 
  • Any speech alleged to be used by the defendant is not sufficient to be disturbing because it is protected speech under the First Amendment. 

 

Related > How to Get a DUI Reduced to Reckless Driving 

 

Disorderly Intoxication Defense  

 

If you have been charged with disorderly intoxication, contact our experienced attorneys at Stechschulte Nell. We are ready to defend your case. Call 813-280-1244 for a case review today.  

 

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