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Indiana Public Intoxication Law Requires Proof of Imminent Danger of Breaching the Peace

Indiana’s public intoxication law was amended in 2012 to encourage intoxicated persons to walk home or take a cab, instead of driving. Prior to the change, the State only had to prove that a person was intoxicated and in a public place. To convict someone of public intoxication under the new law, the State must also prove that the person was bothering or threatening the safety of other people in a public place or that the person was in imminent danger of breaching the peace.  

The statute does not define what it means to be “in imminent danger of breaching the peace.” However, the Indiana Court of Appeals has given guidance by reversing a man’s conviction for public intoxication, due to insufficient evidence. In this case the defendant was at home drunk when he was involved in a fight with a house guest. The police came to investigate, but left without making any arrests.

The defendant then walked to a convenience store to call the police. When the police arrived, the defendant told the officers that he was very drunk and mentioned the altercation earlier in the night at his home. He stated that he wanted to go to jail, because he was afraid there would be another fight if he returned home. Police observed several signs of intoxication and found marijuana in the man’s pocket. Police then arrested him for Public Intoxication, a Class B Misdemeanor; and Possession of Marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor. He was convicted of both counts at a bench trial.

The defendant appealed his conviction for Public Intoxication arguing that there was insufficient evidence to establish that he breached the peace or was in imminent danger of breaching the peace. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction for public intoxication. The Court found that the man was initially drunk in a private place where he had every right to be intoxicated; and, that when he was drunk in public, he was seeking the help of the police and not breaching the peace. The Court further held that the trial court’s conclusion that the defendant was in imminent danger of breaching the peace if he returned home was speculative.

A person can no longer be found guilty of public intoxication, by merely being drunk in a public place. If you have been arrested or charged with public intoxication, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Gibson Law Office attorneys stay current on legislative changes and use recent court decisions to aggressively defend public intoxication charges. With offices in Lafayette and Fort Wayne, Indiana, we have represented clients in all regions of Indiana.