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Public Intoxication in New Jersey


Public Drinking at Your Own Risk

As summertime approaches, you may be eager to relax by the pool, enjoy barbeques and soak up the sun with a drink in hand. While it is more than acceptable to enjoy your summer, especially after suffering months of quarantine due to COVID-19, you must also keep something in mind.

Unlike many states, public intoxication in New Jersey isn’t illegal. Now, this doesn’t mean you’re allowed to act belligerently and do whatever you want in public spaces, but it essentially means you won’t face criminal penalties for public intoxication. However, if a police officer believes you are heavily intoxicated to the point of incapacitation, then you may be taken into protective custody or to a treatment center.

Your Fourth Amendment Rights May Be Lawfully Violated

New Jersey law for public intoxication allows for an officer to search you and seize any weapon or object deemed dangerous to their and the public’s safety – without a warrant. As a reminder, the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizures, especially those conducted without a valid search warrant.

However, some searches and seizures are permitted without a search warrant. Some examples include:

  • Exigent circumstances: If there is probable cause for searching you and an officer believes evidence may be destroyed before getting a valid search warrant.
  • Search incident to arrest: If you are arrested, an officer may search your person, vehicle or the surrounding area without a warrant.
  • Consent searches: Your Fourth Amendment rights may be waived if you consent to a search of your person or premises.
  • “Plain view”: Objects in the officer’s plain view may be allowed to be searched without a warrant.
  • Drug Testing: No warrant or probable cause is required for drug testing.

Several things could go wrong with warrantless searches and seizures while you’re publicly intoxicated. Say, for example, an officer sees you on the streets causing excessive public disturbance and views you as a threat to public safety due to your intoxication. They may ask you questions such as:

  • “How much have you had to drink?”
  • “Did you drink and drive?”
  • “Do you have any dangerous weapons or objects on you?”

If you’re as heavily intoxicated as the officer perceives you to be, then the speed and complexity of their questions may cause you to answer their questions with irrational, self-incriminating answers. If they asked you if you drove under the influence and you answered “yes” in the moment, but misinterpreted their question due to intoxication, you may find yourself in a bad situation.

Further, at the time of your incident with the officer, your Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated without you being aware of such warrantless actions. The state’s public intoxication law only permits the search of a person and their immediate surroundings to the extent necessary to seize any dangerous weapon which may be used against the officer or other people on that occasion.

This Situation Requires Our Attention. Call (201) 574-7919 Today!

With 20+ years of legal experience, we are prepared to defend you if you believe your Fourth Amendment rights were violated. While public intoxication is lawful, everything that happens after an officer approaches you could turn bad. We have seen many cases like this and believe that you shouldn’t face penalties due to the circumstances following your encounter with an officer while you were intoxicated.

We understand that no one is in a rational state of mind when drinking. Contact us online or call (201) 574-7919 for a free consultation!

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