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Should I Get a Lawyer for a Drunk in Public Charge? - Blacks Law Dictionary

By James Hirby

If you've recently been arrested on a public intoxication charge, you may be weighing your legal options. Before you opt to spend hundreds of dollars to hire a lawyer and fight your charge, you'll need to consider the circumstances surrounding your arrest. In most jurisdictions, public intoxication charges are regarded as either petty or simple misdemeanors. 

If your case is charged as a petty misdemeanor, you'll be issued a citation that carries roughly the same weight as a traffic ticket. As a condition of your citation, you'll need to pay a fine of between $150 and $500. You'll also be sentenced to "time served." Since you were probably forced to spend the day or night of your arrest in jail, you won't need to serve any further prison time. Even if you were released on your own recognizance after your arrest, you probably won't be required to return to prison.

If your case is charged as a simple or "Class D" misdemeanor, you'll be hit with a somewhat larger fine of between $300 and $1,000. You may also be sentenced to a term of unsupervised probation. Finally, you may be required to perform a few dozen hours of community service. It's unlikely that you'll be required to go to prison on such a charge. However, it's important to remember that pleading guilty to a simple misdemeanor doesn't absolve you of wrongdoing. Your conviction will become part of the so-called public record and may show up on a criminal background check for a lengthy period of time. If you're looking for a job or wish to obtain a security clearance, this could interfere with your plans.

In other words, you'll need to determine whether you can live with the consequences of a public intoxication conviction. For most people, this would not be a life-changing event. Then again, others have jobs, families and reputations to protect. If you're one of those people, you should consider hiring a lawyer to fight your charge.

Retaining a competent legal professional to fight your public intoxication charge will substantially increase your chances of securing a dismissal or acquittal. However, such an outcome is far from guaranteed. If you were clearly in violation of the law, your lawyer may be unable to convince a judge that you're not guilty of the crime. If this is the case, your trial will end in disappointment. To make matters worse, you'll be hundreds or thousands of dollars poorer.

Nathaniel Brown