With the St. Patrick's Day festivities well underway, it's important to drink responsibly, but also to be aware of your conduct and the conduct of those around you. There are several potential charges that can come about from a night out gone wrong, from DUIs to public drunkenness. Know the laws before a big night out – they may help you identify and remove yourself from a potentially dangerous situation.
What is a DUI/DWI?
When someone drives under the influence of alcohol, they can be charged with Driving Under the Influence (a DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (a DWI). For more information on drunk driving charges in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, see our blog on the topic.
What is public intoxication?
When someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol in a public space, this qualifies as public intoxication. In D.C. and Virginia, someone who is publicly intoxicated can be taken to a court-approved detoxification center, like a hospital, instead of being arrested. However, this is not a guarantee that the suspect will not face criminal charges later.
What is disorderly conduct?
A disorderly conduct charge occurs when a person is being disruptive in a common space, like yelling or swearing loudly in a public space. When alcohol enters the picture, the person could be arrested for being drunk and disorderly. This is considered a misdemeanor in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and perpetrators could be fined or spend up to 90 days in jail.
What is underage drinking?
In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21, which means that anyone in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia found drinking alcohol under the age of 21 can be arrested or given a citation. Providing alcohol to a minor is a criminal offense, as is misrepresenting one's age – such as lying to a bouncer or presenting a fake ID – in an attempt to illegally obtain alcohol. Getting caught with a fake ID can lead to a citation, while selling or giving drugs or alcohol to a minor can result in arrest or a fine between $1,000 and $2,500.
In Maryland and D.C., however, a person under the age of 21 can drink alcohol if it's part of an approved religious ceremony, like receiving the wine at Communion at a church, or if they are in a private residence with the supervision and consent of a parent or guardian who is over the age of 21.
The bartender claims the bar is legally required to close – is that true?
When it's time for last call, listen to the bartender. By law, bars are required to close at 3:00 AM in D.C., or 2:00 AM in Maryland and Virginia. Many bars and restaurants will ask for “last call” an hour or so in advance to give their staff time to clean up and prepare for the next day's customers. A belligerent customer who demands one more beer after closing time really could cost the company thousands of dollars in fines if the establishment serves that “last” beer.
What should I do if an intoxicated person is behaving badly around me?
Safety should always be your number one concern. It may be best to report the person to the bar's manager, or a police officer if one happens to be nearby, but it may be wise to simply remove yourself from the situation, if possible.
On both sides of the courtroom, a dispute stemming from alcohol charges can be difficult and frustrating to settle. Overall, it's crucial to drink responsibly and watch out for yourself and your loved ones, especially during holidays and events that lead to a large amount of alcohol consumption. If you or someone you know is involved in a dispute stemming from drunk and disorderly charges, it's important to find an attorney who can help you navigate the nuances of alcohol law in the DMV. At Patriots Law Group, we're here to offer the best legal counsel for you and your family.
DISCLAIMER: The information above is for general informational purposes only. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information. Each individual situation is different and therefore a formal in-person consultation is necessary before any specific advice may be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for a given situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice you may rely upon. We serve clients anywhere in the world, with in-person consultations available at our Suitland, MD office — right next to Andrews Air Force Base — for clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.