By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
For the state to convict you of public intoxication, or PI for short, they must prove your level of intoxication is even higher than it would be for a DWI.
Here’s why: Texas Penal Code 49.01(2) defines intoxicated (in relevant part) as, “not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body…”
The above definition of 49.01(2) is the definition used for Driving While Intoxicated in 49.04.
Here’s the difference, though — PI is governed by 49.02 and that code specifically says, “a person commits an offense if the person appears in a pubic place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.”
In other words, not only does the person have to be intoxicated (defined by 49.01(2)), but they ALSO must be so to the degree they may “endanger the person or another.”
A simple way of putting it is that to be convicted of DWI, a person must have consumed alcohol to the extent they are dangerous behind the wheel of the car — to get a PI, they must be dangerous merely by being in public. Obviously it makes sense that there is a stricter standard for operating a motor vehicle.
Public Intoxication cases are class c misdemeanors — meaning they’re lower offenses than DWI. PI arrests are highly subjective and frankly often done for crowd control reasons or even in cases where the passenger in a car is highly intoxicated (and the driver is getting hooked-up for DWI). Many officers know that their arrests may very well not end up in convictions, but they feel they are necessary anyway and are supported by the lower burdens of probable cause.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice, you should directly consult an attorney.