Drunk in Public

There’s nothing illegal in Virginia about having a good time that includes a few beers or a couple of glasses of wine, but when your personal party strays into public view it can become a crime. Virginia law makes being drunk in public a misdemeanor offense with a fine of up to $250.

If you’ve had previous drug or alcohol convictions, fines can be greater.

It may be tempting to just pay the fine since there’s typically no jail time attached, but Virginia considers payment of the fine an admission of guilt. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you avoid that.

Public Intoxication Defined
Intoxication or drunkenness is defined in Virginia Code §4.1-100 as a condition in which someone has consumed enough alcoholic drinks to observably affect his or her manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior.

However, Virginia Code §18.2-388, doesn’t limit intoxication to alcohol use, but also includes within its definition use of drugs or other intoxicants.

When someone shows signs of being intoxicated in a public place, they can be charged with a misdemeanor, and you don’t have to be stumbling down the street to be in public. Virginia Code §4.1-100 defines a public place as any place, building or conveyance where the public has access or is permitted to have access. Public places include:

  • Restaurants
  • Hotel lobbies, corridors or dining rooms
  • Parks
  • Highways, streets, or sidewalks

The law excludes from the list of public places rooms in restaurants, hotels, offices, or industrial buildings where private meetings or parties are being held, and private or chartered boats where alcoholic beverages aren’t being sold — although boating under the influence prohibitions apply to the person operating the boat.

Option for Detoxification
When charged with public intoxication, Virginia Code §18.2-388 say the arresting officer may choose to take you to a court-approved detoxification center or jail instead of arresting you. You cannot be detained in such a center involuntarily, although they can hold you until you are sober.

Local laws:

Drunk in Public Ordinances: Fairfax County, City of Alexandria, County of Arlington,

Fairfax County 5-1-1

City of Alexandria: 13-1-5

County of Arlington: 17-7

Other Laws:

§ 18.2-387.1. Obscene sexual display; penalty.

Any person who, while in any public place where others are present, intending that he be seen by others, intentionally and obscenely as defined in § 18.2-372, engages in actual or explicitly simulated acts of masturbation, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

§ 18.2-387. Indecent exposure.

Every person who intentionally makes an obscene display or exposure of his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where others are present, or procures another to so expose himself, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. No person shall be deemed to be in violation of this section for breastfeeding a child in any public place or any place where others are present.

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