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Should you walk home from the party?

Most Penn State students know that they should not drink and drive. Operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or above can result in DUI charges and serious consequences. This threat of criminal charges, and the high risk of accident and injury, may influence students to walk home after a night out instead of driving.

However, if you have had a few too many drinks in the course of a night, you may still face charges for walking home while drunk. Known as public intoxication, you can face up to a $500 fine for a first offense and up to a $1,000 fine for subsequent offenses. What should students know about Pennsylvania's public drunkenness laws?

You cannot face charges solely for drinking

Consuming alcohol if you are over the age of 21 is not a crime in itself. In order to face public drunkenness charges, your actions must endanger your health, the health of those around you, damage property or annoy other persons in the vicinity.

Public drunkenness charges are up to the discretion of the officer

DUI charges are easy to quantify. Typically, an officer uses a breathalyzer to measure an individual's BAC. If it is over .08, they can be definitively charged with driving under the influence. In contrast, public drunkenness charges are based off an individual's behavior. They are not tried to a specific BAC. This can make public drunkenness charges very subjective and up to the discretion of the present police officer.

Depending on the officer's analysis of the situation, they may charge individuals engaged in a variety of behaviors, including: someone who is yelling in a neighborhood late at night, passed out on a bench, in need of hospitalization or fighting with another pedestrian.

Understanding the consequences

Public drunkenness is a summary offense, the least severe criminal offense in Pennsylvania. However, charges may still be visible on background checks, which can make it more difficult to find employment after graduation. If charged with public drunkenness, you may want to consider speaking with an attorney who can explain your options, including the possibility of expungement to clear your record.

To avoid the threat of charges altogether, take a cab or ride-sharing service home at the end of your night.

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