What Happens When You’re Drunk In Public In Arizona?


While irritated neighbors or sober diners in Tucson may wish it was, being drunk in public is not a crime in Arizona. This doesn’t mean wandering around intoxicated is condoned or encouraged. Though you cannot be arrested solely for being drunk outside of your home, law enforcement officers still have recourse for handling intoxicated or incapacitated people. Any crimes committed by an intoxicated person are still crimes and they will likely become charges against you.

Incapacitated Or Intoxicated?

There is a large difference between being intoxicated and incapacitated according to Arizona law, though both involve impairment. Intoxication is simply impairment by alcohol in its traditional sense – slurring words, difficulty with motor movements and a lack of mental clarity.

Incapacitation involves a loss of consciousness or a serious inability to make decisions or answer questions. Incapacitated individuals are considered at substantial risk, as they’re unable to ascertain their own safety and have little to no control over their faculties. For these reasons, incapacitated people are treated differently.

How Local Laws Affect Arizona Laws

In Arizona, every area is allowed to pass its own laws regarding how alcohol can be sold or used. It’s legal for a bar to cut someone off if they’ve been drinking too much or to refuse to serve them alcohol for any reason.

State law does not allow any area to impose a fine or penalty on an individual for being intoxicated. This means it never varies from city to city or county to county – it simply cannot be against the law to be intoxicated. It is against the law to drive under the influence and to possess alcohol under the age of 21, and it is also against the law to provide alcohol to a person under the age of 21. Abiding by the law while intoxicated cannot be deemed a crime.

What Police Officers Can Do

There are two circumstances under which law enforcement officers can intervene with an individual under the influence of alcohol. The first is if the individual can reasonably be considered incapacitated under the definition of Arizona law, and the second is if that person is threatening self-harm or harm to others, or has already done either of those things.

During an officer intervention, the individual is taken with the minimal amount of force. They are not being arrested, but they need to comply. The individual is then brought to an approved alcohol treatment center if one is located within ten miles of where they were picked up. If there is no treatment center available or the treatment center is full, the individual may be held temporarily in jail. Typically, officers will attempt to contact a sober individual to assume responsibility for the individual before using jail as a last resort.

The Limitations Of The Arizona Law

Individuals admitted to a treatment facility cannot be indefinitely held against their will. They must be formally discharged within 24 hours of requesting to leave, but they may stay longer if they choose to participate in a treatment program. They may be released sooner if qualified individuals at the treatment center feel as though they no longer need to be there – as an example, someone who rarely drinks and had a bad night may be released as soon as the alcohol has left their body.

If a jail was used instead of a treatment center, the law has different requirements. This scenario is considered protective custody rather than an arrest, and the individual being held is not being charged with a crime unless laws were broken while they were under the influence. Police are not allowed to hold intoxicated individuals for longer than 12 hours. They may leave sooner if released into the custody of a sober individual who will supervise their safety, or if they become sober in sooner than 12 hours.

Best Practices To Avoid Trouble

While it’s not illegal to be drunk in public in Arizona, it’s certainly not a wise idea. You may not walk away from the ordeal with a criminal record, but it is undoubtedly an ordeal. It is unsafe and unhealthy to consume enough alcohol to become severely intoxicated or even incapacitated, but it isn’t against the law. If you intend to consume an excessive amount of alcohol, it’s better to do so in a private residence with at least one trusted, sober individual who will be capable of making safe and smart decisions.

When A Lawyer May Be Necessary

You only need a lawyer if you engaged in illegal behavior while under the influence, such as driving or drinking underage. At Doug Taylor Law, we’re experienced in defending people in those cases. You can contact us for a free consultation today and we can help you prepare a defense.