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Public intoxication in Virginia, otherwise known as being drunk in public, is governed by Virginia Code Section 18.2-388. That same code section also maintains it is unlawful to profanely curse or swear in public. One bad night out can quickly lead to a Class 4 misdemeanor criminal charge of being intoxicated in public, punishable by a fine of up to $250.00 and a permanent criminal record.  Drunk in public is not just limited to intoxication from alcohol. Public intoxication can result from alcohol, drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs. If you are facing a drunk in public charge, your best course of action is to work with a Fairfax public intoxication attorney. Kassabian & Kassabian, P.L.C. can help.

John Kassabian is an experienced criminal defense lawyer and is here to explain your rights and develop a compelling defense geared towards obtaining the best possible outcome for your case.


To be charged with drunk in public under public intoxication law, one must be visibly intoxicated. Common visible signs of intoxication may include impaired muscle movement, inability to walk straight, slurred speech, or other similar signs. Virginia Code Section 4.1-100, defines “intoxicated” as “a condition in which a person has drunk enough alcohol beverages to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior.” 

While the mere odor of alcohol on a person's breath is not typically enough to legally establish intoxication; physical symptoms or an appearance of intoxication, such as blood shot or glassy eyes, slurring of speech, unsteady gait or walk, signs of confusion such as an inability to know one's location or an inability to know where one may be going to or coming from, are all factors that may be  sufficient for a person to be charged with being intoxicated in public.

It is not unusual for a police officer who believes someone is intoxicated in public to offer that person a preliminary breath test to establish the blood alcohol content (BAC) of the person and to attempt use the breath test result reading in court to prove the charge of drunk in public. If you are charged with public intoxication, working with a public intoxication lawyer in Fairfax may be the best way to overcome these charges.


Virginia Code Section 18.2-388 does not define the meaning of “in public.” However, the Virginia Court of Appeals in Crislip v. Commonwealth, 554 S.E.2d 96, 37 Va App. 66 (2001) explained the plain meaning of “in public” is a place in open view visible to the community.  As a result, individuals have been held to be intoxicated in public when they are intoxicated on their own property outside of their own house, on their porch and in clear view of the public streets, an intoxicated passenger in a car, or an intoxicated person outside of a nightclub or even in a parking lot.


A common question people have about drunk in public law is: how serious is a public intoxication charge? Under Virginia criminal law, drunk in public is a Class 4 misdemeanor and is punishable by only a fine of up to $250.00.  No jail time will be imposed for a conviction of drunk in public. Because the offense is punishable by only a fine, a drunk in public charge is pre-payable without the need to take the time or inconvenience to appear in court and face a judge.

If you wish to prepay the drunk in public fine or if you choose to appear in court and plead guilty, the result is the same; you will be admitting to a criminal offense, you will be convicted of a criminal Class 4 misdemeanor and that misdemeanor will stay on your criminal record forever. Having a Virginia misdemeanor on your record may inhibit your chances of gaining employment, maintaining employment, will appear on a background check, may impact admittance to college, may diminish your reputation, and more.

To get a drunk in public charge dismissed, your best course of action is to contact a Fairfax public intoxication attorney as soon as possible. A good Virginia criminal defense lawyer will be able to mount a strong public intoxication defense and may be able to get the charges dismissed. For a free consultation, contact Kassabian & Kassabian, P.L.C. at (703) 750-3622.


One of the most common questions clients ask is how to beat a drunk in public charge in Virginia. Although it may appear difficult to fight a drunk in public charge; you may have valid defenses that can be legally asserted on your behalf.  Your criminal defense attorney may be able to successfully establish that you were not legally intoxicated, that the surrounding area was not “in public”, or that the preliminary breath test results are unreliable or inadmissible.

Your lawyer can also possibly negotiate the charge with the prosecutor to be dismissed after completion of community service hours, undergoing an alcohol assessment course or simply being of good behavior for a reasonable period.  If the appropriate defenses are asserted or the charge is otherwise dismissed, you will not have a criminal conviction on your record and you may be eligible to expunge the police and court records regarding the drunk in public charge.


If you've been charged with public intoxication, there are ways to present a legal defense.  Don't admit guilt or automatically pay the fines only to suffer the long term effect of a criminal conviction appearing on your record. You should consult an experienced public intoxication attorney serving Fairfax and begin building your case as soon as possible. Attorney John Kassabian is skilled at presenting a strong defense and is an effective negotiator. He will present a strong defense to your drunk in public charge and strive for the best possible outcome.

Don't plead guilty by paying your public intoxication fine without consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney first. Contact us today at (703) 750-3622. 

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