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What Happens If I’m Waiting in My Car to Sober Up?

Legal Columns

Take this scenario: You're out one night, have a few drinks, and get a little inebriated. You know it wouldn't be safe to drive home, so you decide to wait in your car, which is parked on the side of a roadway, until you sober up. The next thing you know, a police officer is tapping at your window and asking you questions. Still a bit drunk, your speech is slurred and you're having trouble focusing.

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A short time after the encounter with the cop, you find yourself cuffed and being taken down to the station. Why? You weren't drinking and driving.

The reason the officer might have taken you into custody is Arkansas's public intoxication law. It makes it an offense to be in a public place while intoxicated by alcohol and or drugs.

What Constitutes Public Intoxication?

Although some people may think that being out in public after consuming a few alcoholic beverages is enough to bring a public intoxication charge, it's not. A.C.A. § 5-71-212 provides that a person commits this offense when they are intoxicated in public and they engage in harmful behavior.

Specifically, the law states that charges can be levied when a person is:

  • In a public space;
  • Drunk or drugged; and
  • A possible danger to themselves, others, or property; or may "unreasonably annoy" others nearby

Returning to the earlier example, the officer likely arrested you because being in a vehicle while intoxicated could lead to adverse consequences. For instance, if you started to drive, you could potentially cause an accident resulting in bodily injury or property damage.

Can I Drink in Public?

Now, let's take the example of your waiting in your car to sober up from a different angle. Suppose the bar you went to for drinks closed, but you weren't ready to end the night, so you went to your car, got some beers from your trunk, and drank them in the vehicle. This type of conduct is also a chargeable offense and is referred to as drinking in public.

According to the law, it's illegal for anyone to consume an alcoholic beverage:

  • In a public place;
  • On a highway or street;
  • In a vehicle used to transport passengers; or
  • In a public transportation waiting area

The law doesn't apply when you're in a place licensed to sell alcohol, you're consuming alcohol as part of a religious ceremony, or you're within the boundaries of an area primarily used for commercial purposes.

What Are the Penalties for Public Intoxication and Drinking in Public?

Both public intoxication and drinking in public are Class C misdemeanors. That means if you're convicted of either offense, you could be sentenced to up to 30 days in jail and/or fined up to $500.

If you're convicted of public intoxication for the third time in five years, you're guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor, which is penalized by:

  • A fine of up to $500;
  • A jail term of up to 30 days; and
  • A requirement to enroll in an alcohol abuse or dependency treatment or counseling program

If you're facing a misdemeanor charge in Northwest Arkansas, contact Norwood & Norwood, P.A. at (479) 235-4600. We'll provide aggressive defense throughout your case.