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It Isn’t Illegal to Be Drunk in Public in Arizona

So let’s say that you’ve spent a couple of hours in downtown phoenix having a drink or two with your friends and you are waiting for your buddy to come out of the bar after paying the tab and you are excited because it is Friday and you are feeling a little bit like our friend Homer here. (http://youtu.be/Fehnc8u6Yts)

Most of us would worry that if a police officer happened upon you in this state, or even in a less intoxicated state, that you would need to act sober really quickly or they might arrest you for being drunk in public. But what you may be surprised to learn is that it isn’t actually illegal to be drunk in public in Arizona.

In fact, the Arizona Court of Appeals recently threw out a case against a Scottsdale man, Mr. Cole, who was arrested for being drunk in public (“incapacitated by alcohol in public”) in 2011. Thirty years earlier, the city of Scottsdale had enacted an ordinance making it illegal to be drunk in public if you were a danger to yourself or others and the police used this ordinance as the justification for arresting Mr. Cole.

What the city of Scottsdale apparently forgot was that in 1972 Arizona decided to treat public drunkenness as the symptom alcohol addiction and removed the criminal penalties that were previously associated with public drunkenness. While a person can be arrested and charged for crimes they commit while intoxicated, the intoxication itself cannot be treated as a crime.

So, if Mr. Cole was urinating in public or vandalizing property while intoxicated they could have arrested him and charged him with urinating in public but he

could not be charged with being drunk in public. That was a point the city of Scottsdale apparently forgot when they passed and enforced the old ordinance. Luckily, Mr. Cole had a smart attorney on his side who realized the local ordinance could be challenged and did so successfully, helping not only Mr. Cole but anyone in Arizona who might drink a little too much and decide to walk home.

If you are facing charges related to public intoxication or other activity that occurred while you were intoxicated, you should speak to an attorney immediately. With the decision in the Cole case we may be able to help you fight the charges you are facing here in Phoenix.

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