Plenty of people enjoy having a drink or two to unwind, especially during stressful times. Sometimes, people even have a few drinks too many. If you or a loved one is facing charges associated with allegedly having too much to drink, it's important to take a couple steps. First, you should make sure that you understand the charges. A New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney will be able to help you both understand the charges and plan a strategy for dealing with them. In New Jersey, public drunkenness is not illegal. There are, however, several charges that might occur as a result of what actions one takes while drunk.
What Is Public Drunkenness?
In many states around the United States, public drunkenness is also referred to as “drunk and disorderly conduct.” Generally, it indicates that someone is exhibiting behavior in a “public” space, that leads one to believe that they are intoxicated. Behavior that qualifies might include heavy slurring, or stumbling, as you walk down a sidewalk.
Is Public Drunkenness Illegal In New Jersey?
Public drunkenness, or intoxication is not illegal in New Jersey. In fact, not only is it not illegal, but the law in New Jersey prohibits any municipalities or counties from passing their own laws making public intoxication illegal. NJ Rev Stat § 26:2B-26 (2013) states:
“No county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the State shall adopt any law, ordinance, bylaw, resolution or regulation having the force of law a. rendering public intoxication or being found in any place in an intoxicated condition an offense, a violation or the subject of criminal or civil penalties or sanctions of any kind; b. inconsistent with the provisions and policies of this act.”
This does not however, impact laws that are about driving while intoxicated or other similar offenses. The statute goes on to say:
“Nothing herein contained shall affect any laws, ordinances, bylaws, resolutions or regulations against driving after drinking alcohol, driving under the influence of alcohol, or other similar offenses that involve the operation of motor vehicles, machinery or other hazardous equipment.”
It is okay, however, for local governments to regulate the use and sale of alcohol to specific times and places. Additionally, in New Jersey, many local governments have set rules where it is not legal to have open containers in public spaces, such as sidewalks, parks, or on public roads. If you are drinking in your front yard, but outside your house, you could possibly be charged with violation of an open container regulation. The good news? At the end of August 2020, Governor Murphy signed a new law relaxing some of those rules in Atlantic City, and according to the article, several other cities in New Jersey have relaxed their laws as well. Still, it is not statewide, and so it's important that you pay attention to the local statutes.
What Sorts Of Behaviors Might Result In Charges While Publicly Intoxicated?
Although the police cannot charge you with public drunkenness, there are several other penalties that might arise, depending on the behavior you exhibit while you are intoxicated.
One charge that people often associate with intoxication is DWI. In New Jersey, “driving while intoxicated” and “driving under the influence” are used to mean the same thing: driving with an amount of alcohol in your bloodstream that is over the legal limit. You can read more about it here.
There are other possible charges that people don't always consider, and those are important to keep in mind.
Disorderly conduct is a good example. Perhaps someone has a few drinks and ends up speaking a bit more loudly than they normally would. If there was escalation — even to the point of a fight — you could be charged with disorderly conduct according to the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice 2C § 33-2 which reads: “ A person is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense, if with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof he (1) Engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or (2) Creates a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.”
It continues “A person is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense if, in a public place, and with purpose to offend the sensibilities of a hearer or in reckless disregard of the probability of so doing, he addresses unreasonably loud and offensively coarse or abusive language, given the circumstances of the person present and the setting of the utterance, to any person present.”
The bottom line then, is that you can be charged for behavior that occurs while you're drunk, however not for being publicly drunk.
What Are Other Possible Consequences Of Public Drunkenness?
If a police officer believes that your health is at risk and you are incapacitated, they are allowed to take you into protective custody in order to accompany you to your residence or to take you to an intoxication treatment center. NJ Rev Stat § 26:2B-16 (2013) outlines all of the parameters of this statute.
You are not under arrest if taken into protective custody, however, police officers may search you. They also can ask you to take a breathalyzer test or to submit to a field sobriety test. If you agree to these, that information could be used at a later time.
Skilled New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one is facing charges as a result of alleged behavior while you were publicly drunk, it's critical that you don't take any action without first speaking to an attorney. Although a fine may seem minor, admitting to a charge, could result in a permanent record. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced criminal defense attorney who has personally assisted thousands of clients over many years. He's helped them craft a strong defensive strategy and is dedicated to ensuring that all of his clients receive their due process. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 today with any questions you have or contact them online.