Public Intoxication In Virginia

July 26, 2014

In Virginia, it’s illegal to be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol in public.  The officer has the discretion to transport you to a detoxication center (or drunk tank) in lieu of arrest.

Pursuant to Virginia Code 18.2-388, if any person “profanely curses or swears or is intoxicated in public” he may be charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor.  Therefore, in order to prove this charge, the prosecutor has to prove you were (1) intoxicated, and (2) in public.

Virginia Courts have defined “in public” to mean visible to the community, in open view.  Keep in mind this could include your own front porch or front yard.  Virginia Code 4.1-100 defines intoxicated as “when a person has drunk enough alcoholic beverages to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior.”  This definition mandates that the prosecutor prove some intoxicating behavior (not just the smell of alcohol) to get a conviction.

Fairfax County has adopted its own version of the state law, codified in Fairfax County Ordinance 5-1-1.  The ordinance states that “if any person profanely curse or swear or be drunk in public he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

Public intoxication or drunk in public is noted as a “ticketed” offense – meaning you could pay the fine online.  However it is not a simple ticket.  You are pleading guilty to a criminal misdemeanor which will remain on your record.


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