When the weather’s warm and you’re out with friends socializing it isn’t uncommon to want to drink outdoors. An evening of fun at a park or festival might inspire some public drinking, a decision that may seem harmless, but can result in criminal charges. Though it may not sound like a big deal, the reality is that a public intoxication conviction will remain on your record and pop up on future criminal background checks, causing embarrassment and possibly even harm to your future. To learn more about drinking in public laws in Charleston, South Carolina, keep reading.
Open container law
At the local level, the City of Charleston has instituted an open container law, which prohibits individuals from having open containers of alcoholic beverages in public areas. This includes public parks, streets and sidewalks. The law has been around since the late 1970s and, though many people mistakenly believe there are exceptions for popular areas in downtown, the measure is enforced throughout the city. This means that if an officer sees you carrying a drink, whether it’s a cheap beer or a mint julep, you can be arrested and charged with violating the open container law.
What’s the punishment?
The penalty for having an open container of alcohol anywhere except in a private residence, hotel or motel room, or a legally constituted private gathering carries a potential fine of up to $100 or imprisonment for up to 30 days.
Though we’ve already established that carrying an open alcoholic beverage in Charleston is against the law, even those who aren’t currently drinking could find themselves in trouble given the right set of circumstances. That’s because in addition to the local open container law, South Carolina also enforces public intoxication laws.
Public intoxication laws mean that anyone who is found in a public place or gathering in a grossly intoxicated condition or who is behaving in a disorderly or boisterous manner can be charged. This means that simply being tipsy should not result in legal action, but it should be noted that there is a lot of wiggle room in the law to allow cops great discretion in deciding what qualifies as gross intoxication.
Generally, gross intoxication is seen as intoxication that is apparent to an outside observer. Disorderly conduct includes a host of activities, including using obscene language in a public place. This conduct is outlawed in public places, which can include more than just parks, streets and sidewalks. The bar inside a restaurant is considered a public space, as is anywhere else where conduct is observable by members of the public.
What’s the punishment?
In South Carolina, public intoxication charges are misdemeanors and can be punishable with fines of no more than $100 and jail time of no more than 30 days.
What’s the harm?
Though a public intoxication charge is only a misdemeanor offense, it’s important to understand that misdemeanors are still crimes. This means that the conviction will stay on your criminal record and will show up when others, including potential employers, landlords, etc., conduct criminal background checks. This means that even a relatively minor public intoxication conviction could impact your ability to do things like get and maintain a job or find housing. Additionally, a public intoxication charge will stay with you indefinitely. That’s because in South Carolina, public intoxication convictions are not eligible for expungement.
If you’ve been arrested in South Carolina it’s crucial that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you navigate such complicated legal matters. Experience matters when handling serious criminal issues and you don’t want to take any chances when your freedom is at stake. David Aylor understands how scary the criminal justice system can be and is here to guide you through the process. If you or someone you know has been arrested and is in need of South Carolina criminal defense lawyer, feel free to contact David Aylor today at (843) 310-4900.