Public Intoxication in Tennessee

My name is Jed McKeehan, and today, we’re going to talk about the term public intoxication and what that statute says about people who may or may not be publicly intoxicated. It’s codified at Tennessee Code Annotated 39-17-310, and that statute says that if someone is in a public place and they are under the influence of a controlled substance and they are a danger to either themselves or others, then they may be arrested and charged with public intoxication.

The Tennessee public intoxication law also states:

(a) A person commits the offense of public intoxication who appears in a public place under the influence of a controlled substance, controlled substance analogue or any other intoxicating substance to the degree that:

(1) The offender may be endangered;
(2) There is endangerment to other persons or property; or
(3) The offender unreasonably annoys people in the vicinity.

(b) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

That’s the entirety of the law on public intoxication in Tennessee. So when I read this law, a few things jump out at me.

First, you don’t even have to be drunk driving to be arrested for being drunk. If you are drunk and in a public place, you have met the first criterion for possibly being arrested for public intoxication.

That’s why its important to know that restaurants and bars are not actually public places. They are private businesses. While they may usually be open to the public, they are allowed to refuse to serve individuals, making them private places. So you cannot get arrested for public intoxication if you are in a private business, and obviously you cannot get arrested while in a private residence.

However, once you walk out on the street, or are at a public park, or any other place owned by a government entity, you are fair game.

Second, you don’t have to be under the influence of alcohol only. If you are under the influence of narcotics of some kind, the police can arrest you for public intoxication.

Finally, you can read for yourself what a person has to be doing to violate the public intoxication law. Unreasonably annoying people in the vicinity?!?!?! That seems pretty vague. Drunk people annoy me all of the time, can I get them arrested?

The language here is very broad, “endangering themselves,” “endangering others,” those are broad terms that could mean almost anything and the legislators may have designed it that way to allow the police to have broad abilities to arrest individuals.

The lesson here is, if you are enjoying any kind of intoxicant, minimize your time in public places.