Is it Illegal to Be Drunk in Public in Pennsylvania?

On Behalf of | Dec 9, 2019 | Criminal Defense

You’ve gone out and had a few alcoholic beverages. You’re a responsible person, and you decide that, rather than get behind the wheel, you’re going to walk back home. As your heading down the street, you remember a friend telling you that it’s illegal to be drunk in public. Is that true? The answer is: It depends on what you’re doing.

Pennsylvania’s Public Intoxication Law

Pennsylvania Statute § 5505 starts like this: a person is violating the law if they appear in a public space while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. If you stopped reading there, you might think that the friend who told you about this law was right, as it specifically states that being drunk in public is a crime.

However, before you duck into a private space so the police don’t catch you drunk in public, let’s read what the rest of the law says.

The statute continues by saying that a person is guilty of this offense if their drunkenness and subsequent behavior makes them a danger to:

  • Themselves,
  • Others, or
  • Property

Additionally, if a person is drunk or drugged in public and they annoy people around them, they could be cited for this crime.

What this statute means is that if you’re walking home after having several drinks that have impaired your abilities but you’re not harming anyone or anything, you’re not engaging in unlawful behavior.

However, if, during your intoxicated state, you start bothering the couple waiting for their rideshare vehicle, or you kick and damage a few trash cans along your way, the cops could cite you.

Penalties for Public Drunkenness

Being drunk in public and potentially causing harm to people or property is a summary offense. Although it is not a misdemeanor or felony charge, it should not be taken lightly. If you are found guilty, the information may show up on your criminal record, which you must report on applications asking about offenses you’ve been convicted of.

Similar to getting a ticket for a traffic offense, if you receive a citation for public drunkenness, you could either pay the fine, which is basically like admitting guilt, or contest it. If you choose to challenge the citation, it’s best to seek legal help with the process.

To land a conviction, the prosecution must prove that you were drunk and a danger to yourself, others or property, or that you were annoying someone else.

While you might not be incarcerated for a conviction, you could be facing fines.

The penalties for public intoxication include a:

  • $500 fine for a first offense
  • $1,000 fine for a second and subsequent offense

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Scranton, reach out to our skilled attorney at the Law Offices of William D. Thompson by calling us at 570-846-2819 or contacting us online. We will fight relentlessly on your behalf, working toward a favorable outcome.