Public Intoxication in Texas: Definitions, Penalties and Explanations

Every adult in America has seen someone publicly intoxicated but no one seems to know what it means. In Texas, this doubly true. The Lone Star state has no laws against drinking in public and therefore has plenty of laws about what happens when alcohol consumption in public goes wrong. We'll walk through the definitions and misconceptions about alcohol on this page and will provide updated information about punishments as the law changes.

Table of Contents

Some things to keep in mind about Texas alcohol laws in general. It is legal to drink in public in Texas as there are no open container restrictions unless you’re in a state park. Therefore, as Section 49.02 of the state penal code defines, the offense of Public Intoxication is just a question of how drunk (intoxicated) you are.

Intoxicated vs Public Intoxication

Texas makes a distinction between merely being “intoxicated” and the actual offense of public intoxication. We’ll get to the details in the subsection below but for now, just remember that Intoxicated refers to just the act of not having one’s mental faculties. Conversely, being publicly intoxicated is the actual offense that’s being committed.

What Intoxicated Means

According to Texas Law, intoxicated has its own precise meaning and it applies to the entirety of chapter forty-nine of the state’s penal code. According to the state, you are considered intoxicated if you fall into either category:

  • Not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body.
  • Having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. Notice that an arresting officer cannot possibly know this before engaging with you.

What ‘Publicly Intoxicated’ Means

Public Intoxication in Texas is defined as when “A person commits an offense if the person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.”

We’ll get to the “danger to the person or another,” but this offense can only be given to someone that is both a) in public, b) intoxicated, and c) is a clear danger to themselves or someone else. If charged, a police officer will have to prove that, due to being intoxicated, you were a danger to yourself or someone else to the court’s satisfaction.

Penalty

The penalty for public intoxication in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor. Not only is it not a felony, but this is also the lowest violation among misdemeanor infractions in the state (with Class A being the most serious before felonies; see misdemeanors vs. felonies).

A class C misdemeanor, which is given when charged with public intoxication, comes with a fine of up to $500 and zero jail time. The officer may apprehend you if you are an imminent threat to someone else or yourself, or you’re being difficult with the officer. Still, as far as the criminal penalty goes, you will not be required to serve jail time unless more charges are tacked onto the infraction.

A Minor Charged With Public Intoxication

Section (e) of Chapter 49 brings up what to do if a minor is charged with this offense. They then reference Sec. 106.071 of the alcoholic and beverage code for what the penalty is (see this is why we started this site). In english, all alcohol laws are subject to this section and therefore the court (particularly the judge) is given quite a bit of leeway in sentencing.

The judge may sentence you, if convicted, to a fine of anywhere from $250 (minimum) to no more than $2,000. Additionally you may be confined to jail for a period of up to 180 days (this is rare). The more common sentence has nothing to do with fine or jail time but the following:

You are likely to be given a sentence of “not less than 20 or more than 40 hours, if the minor has been previously convicted” or “less than eight or no more than 12 hours” if you’ve never been convicted before of this offense. So if it’s your first time offense, expect to perform community service for a period of eight to twelve hours, and pay a fine (or rather your parents will pay a fine) of up to $250.

What Constitutes A Public Place?

Important is that just because something is “privately owned,” that doesn’t mean it’s not a public place. In other words, see below:

“Public place” means any place to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access and includes, but is not limited to, streets, highways, and the common areas of schools, hospitals, apartment houses, office buildings, transport facilities, and shops.

Sec. 1.07

What is meant by a danger to themselves?

Long a question of mental health in America, the question of what constitutes one being a ‘danger to themselves’ is packed with baggage. This is among the primary reasons that one may be involuntarily committed if they appear unable to care for themselves or others. However alcohol intoxication is temporary and usually easy to spot (and smell). Therefore the officer need only a reasonable doubt that you are going to be able to find your way home without hurting yourself or others.

Major red flags for arresting officers include harassing pedestrians, throwing or yelling things, or walking without coordination.

Justifiably Intoxicated?

In subsection (b) of the criminal code, though we know, we don’t have to tell you that, the legal code makes a very explicit reference to when someone might be justifiably intoxicated under the eyes of the law. The law states, “alcohol or other substance was administered for therapeutic purposes and as a part of the person’s professional medical treatment by a licensed physician.”

Even though it may be obvious anecdotally, the research literature on the relationship between alcohol and prescription medication is vast. Certain drugs may cause “pharmacokinetic” interactions where alcohol interferes with your metabolism, which in turn affects your body’s ability to properly process the medication. Alternatively, pharmacodynamic interactions enhance the effect of the medicine.

Whether it be Roseanne Barr or your old friend from college, the impacts of alcohol combined with drug use are known to everyone. However, this is not what the legislatures had in mind when they added this amendment. See the first section that intoxicated, under Texas law, means “A person commits an offense if the person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.”

Therefore public intoxication does not necessarily imply that the intoxication is a result of alcohol. Any number of prescription medications could be directly or indirectly (prescribed) administered by a physician. If you can prove to a reasonable degree that these drugs that you were legally prescribed or administered were the cause of your incident, then you may well have the citation dismissed by a judge.