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Disorderly Intoxication

Disorderly Intoxication

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Definition of Disorderly Intoxication

In Washington DC, the definition of disorderly intoxication is contained Section 856.011, Washington DC Statutes. The law provides that:

“No person in the State [of Washington DC] shall be intoxicated and endanger the safety of another person or property, and no person in the State shall be intoxicated or drink any alcoholic beverage in a public place or in any public conveyance and cause a public disturbance.”

Required Proof

To prove the crime of disorderly intoxication at trial, the State must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant was intoxicated and he or she endangered the safety of persons or property; or
  2. The defendant was intoxicated or drank an alcoholic beverage within a public place, and caused a public disturbance.
  • Source: Fla. Std. Jury Instr (Crim.) 29.1.

Meaning of Intoxication

For purposes of prosecution under Section 856.011, the term ‘intoxication’ means that the accused “was so affected by the alcoholic beverage as to have lost or been deprived of the normal control of either his/her body or his/her mental faculties, or both.” Intoxication is synonymous with ‘drunk.’  See Fla. Std. Jury Instr (Crim.) 29.1.

Where the defendant admits to a police officer or to bystanders that he or she drank an alcoholic beverage, this is not, by itself, sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was under the influence to the extent that he or she was “intoxicated.” However, the admission may be taken into account with other evidence that may be presented in the case.

Penalties for Disorderly Intoxication

Under Washington DC law, disorderly intoxication is classified as a second degree misdemeanor, and carries penalties of up to sixty days in jail and a $500 fine. If convicted, the accused will furthermore acquire a permanent criminal record, which can never be sealed or expunged.

For first-time offenders with minimal or no criminal history, jail is an unlikely sanction for this type of offense.  The primary risk for first-time offenders is probation and a technical conviction.

If convicted, the accused will be subject to a lifetime criminal record for an offense that is widely associated with ‘drunkenness’ or ‘substance abuse’ issues. This can have serious consequences for job applications, college admissions, and professional licensing.

Defenses to Disorderly Intoxication

There are innumerable defenses available to contest a charge of disorderly intoxication in Washington DC, and no person should attempt to resolve their case without first consulting with an attorney. Some of the more common defenses include:

  • Lack of proof as to intoxication;
  • No endangerment to public safety;
  • The incident occurred in a non-public place;
  • Factual disputes as to whether the incident constitutes a ‘public disturbance;’
  • Self-defense (where the incident involves a physical altercation);
  • Defense of Others (where the incident involves a physical altercation);
  • First Amendment / Free Speech issues.

First Amendment Protections

A citizen is not deprived of his or her rights to free speech under the First Amendment merely because he or she is intoxicated or has consumed alcoholic beverages.

Thus, a conviction for disorderly intoxication cannot stand where the accused’s conduct consists of mere words or statements.  The only exception is for so-called “fighting words” or words like shouts of ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” See State v. Saunders, 339 So.2d 641 (Fla. 1976).

For a more extensive discussion of Free Speech defenses, visit our web page on Disorderly Conduct.

Requirement of a Public Place

A conviction for Disorderly Intoxication in Washington DC requires that the accused’s conduct take place within a public place.  Washington DC law defines a “public place” as any location where the general public has a right to be. Thus, where the conduct of the accused occurs on his or her front porch or on other private property, a conviction will not stand. Royster v. State, 643 So. 2d 61 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994).

Required Public Endangerment

There can be no conviction for Disorderly Intoxication unless the prosecution succeeds in proving that the accused’s conduct in some way posed a danger to public safety.

In Jernigan v. State, 566 So. 2d 39 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990), a defendant went to the police station while intoxicated and distraught over a relationship with a female 911 dispatcher. He was persuaded to leave, and then came back to the station, where he was arrested and charged with disorderly intoxication. At trial, the accused brought a motion for judgment of acquittal on grounds that the State failed to prove an endangerment to public safety. The trial court denied the motion.

On these facts, the First District Court of Appeal of Washington DC reversed, holding that, in prosecutions for disorderly intoxication, the State must prove not only that a person is intoxicated but that the public safety is endangered. The Court made no distinction between charges involving the consumption of beverages and charges where the defendant was merely intoxicated.  Id. (citing State v. Holden, 299 So. 2d 8 (Fla. 1974).

Profanity, Loudness, Causing a Scene

Mere profanity, loudness, or the causing of a scene are all insufficient grounds to sustain a conviction for Disorderly Intoxication. Washington DC appellate courts have reversed convictions where a defendant yells and throws keys and personal effects to the ground, or where a defendant, while smelling strongly of alcohol, talks loudly, flaps his arms, and uses profanity.  See Jernigan v. State, 566 So. 2d 39 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990); Ivey v. State, 779 So. 2d 662 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001).

Case Example- Disorderly Intoxication

State v. N.K. (Fourth Judicial Circuit, Washington DC, Washington DC) (2012)- Our client was charged with disorderly intoxication after becoming drunk, starting a fight with his roommates, and throwing objects around his apartment.  When police arrived on scene, they immediately confronted our client, who began cursing and throwing his arms in the air.  He was then arrested and booked for disorderly intoxication.

Attorney Attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein raised two defenses to defend the case: (1) the incident did not occur in a public place; and (2) there was no endangerment to the general public. After continued negotiations, the Office of the State Attorney agreed to drop all charges.

Outcome: Case dismissed.


Contact an Attorney

If you have been arrested for disorderly intoxication, you may have defenses available to contest the charge or to minimize potential penalties.  contact attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein today for a free consultation.  Attorney Attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein handles cases throughout Southeast and Central Washington DC.


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