Man Sitting on the Bench Drinking in PublicUnlike some other states, it is not a crime to be drunk in public in North Carolina. However, it is a criminal offense to be drunk and disorderly in public. Many people are charged with this offense throughout North Carolina and in Charlotte, especially in our city’s popular bar area. You face harsh penalties if convicted of this crime and could have a permanent criminal record that may have long-term consequences on your life.

What Can Happen to You If You Are Drunk But Not Disorderly in Charlotte

It is not illegal to be drunk in a public place in our state. Under North Carolina law, a public place is any place open to the public even if it is privately owned. Examples of public places include:

  • Roads
  • Sidewalks
  • Parking lots
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Stores
  • Office buildings

Although public intoxication is not a crime, the police do have the right to take someone into protective custody and take them home or to a responsible individual’s residence. If the person needs medical care, the police are allowed to take him to a hospital or other medical facility. When no medical treatment is needed, the officer can take the intoxicated person to a shelter or local jail. The police are allowed to keep someone in protective custody until he is sober or for 24 hours.

When Can a Person Be Guilty of the Crime of Drunk and Disorderly?

Under North Carolina law, very specific requirements must be met for an individual to be convicted of being drunk and disorderly. He must be intoxicated in public and be disruptive in one of these ways:

  • Interfering with or blocking traffic on a highway or road
  • Blocking or interfering with a passage on a sidewalk or an entrance to a building
  • Grabbing, shoving, or pushing other people
  • Fighting or challenging others to fight
  • Cursing or shouting at others or rudely insulting them
  • Begging for money or other property

The police can arrest an individual for being drunk and disorderly and also place him in protective custody if the officer determines that this would be beneficial.

Drunk and disorderly is a Class 3 misdemeanor. For a first offense, the punishment can include one to 10 days in jail and a fine of up to $200. If the person has prior convictions, the jail sentence is increased to up to 20 days.

Alcoholism Is a Defense to Drunk and Disorderly Charges

Under North Carolina law, alcoholism is a complete defense to the charge of being intoxicated and disorderly. The judge must consider this defense even if the defendant or his attorney does not raise it. The judge can order that the defendant’s drinking history be evaluated by an alcohol treatment counselor. If raising this defense results in the person’s acquittal, the judge has the power to civilly commit him as a substance abuser.

What Should You Do If You Are Arrested for Being Drunk and Disorderly

If you are charged with being drunk and disorderly, you need to take immediate steps to protect your legal rights. This will help an experienced criminal defense lawyer build a strong defense to the charges you face. Some important actions you should take include:

  • Stay calm. This may be more challenging to do if you are drunk and your judgment is impaired. However, it is crucial to remain calm and cooperative during your arrest.
  • Exercise your right to an attorney and retain one immediately. Once you tell the police you want a lawyer, they cannot question you unless he is present.
  • Remain silent. It is crucial to exercise this constitutional right because anything you say can be used by the police against you.
  • Know when your court dates are and attend all required hearings. You may face other serious charges if you do not show up at court.

Have You Been Arrested for a DWI in Charlotte, NC?

If you are facing DWI charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.


C. Todd Browning
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Charlotte Criminal Defense and DWI Lawyer