The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," runs in the Champaign News Gazette.
Can someone be ticketed or arrested for public intoxication in Illinois? Is that a crime?
Not if you’re 21. Public intoxication may be illegal in some states, but not in Illinois.
In fact, it’s illegal to make public intoxication illegal in Illinois. A state law prohibits any kind of local ordinance that makes public intoxication illegal. It’s designed to promote treatment of substance abuse, instead of punishment.
That law says: “No county, municipality or political subdivision may adopt or enforce any law that includes being intoxicated as the sole basis of the offense.”
So, if you can legally consume alcohol, it’s not illegal to be intoxicated—publicly or privately. Being intoxicated, and under 21, would be illegal, since it would be the result of the illegal consumption of alcohol.
Even if just being intoxicated is not illegal, doing things while intoxicated can be. Driving while intoxicated is obviously illegal, but so is walking in the street or road. Impaired pedestrians must stick to the sidewalk.
Cyclists aren’t “afoot or wearing in-line speed skates,” so they can’t be intoxicated “pedestrians.”
Three other things you can’t do while under the influence:
- “Accompany or provide instruction” to a driver with a learner’s permit.
- “Operate or be in actual physical control of” a snowmobile or boat.
- “Perform any act in connection with the maintenance or operation of any aircraft.”
But that’s about it.
Even if you’re sober, consuming alcohol in public, or possessing open containers of it, can be illegal. State law specifically prohibits public consumption and possession for anyone under 21. And even if state law doesn’t prohibit that if you’re of legal drinking age local ordinances usually do.
For example, Urbana’s code says: “No person shall possess any open container of, or consume alcoholic liquor on any public property or the parking lot of any business establishment or in any vehicle travelling upon or parked on any public property or parking lot of any business establishment.” Champaign’s code is nearly identical.
Although public intoxication may not be a crime, it can attract unwanted police attention. Which can result in background checks, which can find outstanding warrants, which can get you arrested for something else.
Not many states still make public intoxication a crime. Iowans “shall not be intoxicated or simulate intoxication in a public place.” Violators can be fined up to $625, and get 30 days in jail.
Indiana had a public intoxication law until 2012. Now, it takes public intoxication plus a breach of the peace or some other menacing conduct to break the law.
In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Texas law that made it a crime to “get drunk or be found in a state of intoxication in any public place, or at any private house except his own.” It was not cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, even if the person challenging the law had spent hundreds of nights in jail over the years working off his fines.