Definition of Disorderly Intoxication

In Florida, the definition of disorderly intoxication is contained Section 856.011 of the Florida Statutes. The law provides that: “No person in the State [of Florida] 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.”

Thus, under the statute, disorderly intoxication occurs in one of two scenarios:

  1. Where an accused is intoxicated and he or she endangers the safety of persons or property; or
  2. Where an accused is intoxicated or drinks in a public place and causes a public disturbance.

For purposes of Florida’s disorderly intoxication statute, “intoxication” means more than merely being under the influence of an alcoholic beverage. Intoxication in Florida 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.”

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 Florida 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.

Defenses to Disorderly Intoxication

There are innumerable defenses available to contest a charge of disorderly intoxication in Florida, 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 Florida requires that the accused’s conduct take place within a public place.  Florida 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 Florida 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).

Minor Disturbances

Proof of a minor disturbance, without more, is insufficient to sustain a conviction for Disorderly Intoxication. Florida 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); Blake v. State, 433 So. 2d 611 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983); Ivey v. State, 779 So. 2d 662 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001).

Case Example- Disorderly Intoxication

State v. N.K. (Fourth Judicial Circuit, Duval County, Florida) (2013)- 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.

Our attorneys 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 in Jacksonville or the surrounding counties of Northeast Florida, you may have defenses available to contest the charge or to mitigate the potential penalties.  Contact Hussein & Webber, PL for a free consultation.