Definition of Disorderly Intoxication

The definition of disorderly intoxication is contained Section 856.011, 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.”

Required Proof

To prove the crime of disorderly intoxication at trial, the State must prove either of the following 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.

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.’  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 Florida law, disorderly intoxication is classified as a second degree misdemeanor, and carries penalties of up to 60 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.” 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

Where a defendant is charged with disorderly intoxication based on an event that occurred in a public setting, the location of the incident must actually qualify as a ‘public place’ for a conviction to be sustained.  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 if the State has charged a defendant under the second formulation of disorderly intoxication (involving public place). Royster v. State, 643 So. 2d 61 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994).

Required Public Endangerment

To address constitutional concerns with the broad wording of Florida’s disorderly intoxication statute, the Florida Supreme Court has held that the operation of the statute “is controlled and confined to situations where the public is endangered.”  State v. Holden, 299 So. 2d 8, 9 (Fla. 1974).

As a result, 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.  T.L.M. v. State, 371 So. 2d 688, 689 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979); Blake v. State, 433 So. 2d 611, 612 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983).

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)).

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.

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.  Jernigan, 566 So. 2d 39; 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) (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.

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, contact Hussein & Webber, PL today for a free consultation.  Our attorneys handle cases in Jacksonville, Orlando, and the surrounding counties of northeast and central Florida.