Being Drunk in Public Is Not a Crime, According to Arizona Appeals Court

Being drunk in public is not a crime, according to an Arizona Appeals Court decision.

The court was considering the case of a man cited for public intoxication in Scottsdale in December 2011, and the three-member panel unanimously ruled that state law has a specific ban on city ordinances outlawing public intoxication.

The state law says:

No county, municipality or other political subdivision may adopt or enforce any local law, ordinance, resolution or rule having the force of law that includes being a common drunkard or being found in an intoxicated condition as one of the elements of the offense giving rise to criminal or civil penalty or sanctions, but nothing in this article shall affect any laws, ordinances, resolutions or rules against drunken driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or other similar offenses involving the operation of vehicles, aircraft, boats, machinery or other equipment, or regarding the sale, purchase, dispensing, possessing or using of alcoholic beverages at stated times and places or by particular classes of persons.

The case was tossed by the municipal court, but the city prosecutor's office appealed the case to the Maricopa County Superior Court. The county court reversed the municipal court's decision, as the court ruled Scottsdale's ban on a person being "under the influence of alcohol" in public is not being the same as being "in an intoxicated condition," which is decriminalized under state law.

The appeals court acknowledged those two phrases have different meanings, but that doesn't solve the question.

"A person who is 'intoxicated' is in fact 'under the influence' to a particular, greater degree," the opinion states.

Therefore, Scottsdale's ordinance against being "under the influence" of alcohol in public conflicts with state law, the court ruled.

The appeals court opinion also says that Arizona's 1972 law banning such ordinances "signaled the Legislature's determination that alcoholism should be treated as a disease and not criminalized unless a person under the influence of alcohol engages in specified activities such as driving or operating other types of vehicles or equipment."

The City of Scottsdale could still appeal this case to the Arizona Supreme Court. The appeals court's ruling can be found below:

Arizona v. Coles

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