Advice from a cop: How to not get arrested for being drunk and disorderly


I still remember when a friend was hauled off by the police in Myrtle Beach for public drinking. What started out as a fun night at a club turned into a long night at the jail. None of us knew what to do.

Most times, we aren’t prepared for dealing with the legal system. Either something unexpected happens to us or we make a bad judgment call. Suddenly, we are faced with decisions that require legal attention.

In May, Adam Owensby, assistant public defender with Mecklenburg Public Defenders, spoke to C5 about common traffic violations.


Today, Owensby answers basic questions about public drunk and disorderly:

(1) Is public drunkenness illegal in N.C.?

No. It is perfectly legal to walk around as drunk as you like in North Carolina.

(2) What does public drunk and disorderly mean?

The actual charge in North Carolina is “Intoxicated and Disruptive.” You have to be visibly drunk and causing trouble: begging, fighting, cursing, threatening people, or blocking a road or sidewalk. Do all of that and you’ll likely get the attention of the police.

(3) Does it go on my record?

Yes. Unfortunately, Intoxicated and Disruptive is a Class 3 Misdemeanor. If convicted, it will stay on your record permanently. A Class 3 Misdemeanor is the least severe criminal charge that North Carolina recognizes.

(4) What is the process if I am arrested?

The law enforcement officer will take you to the Law Enforcement Center, which is a fancy way of saying police station.  Then, you will go before a Magistrate to determine whether the officer had probable cause to make an arrest. If so, the Magistrate will make a pre-trial release determination.

Someone acting in a disorderly fashion may be placed in a segregated waiting cell in intake (read: drunk-tank).

(5) What if I am with someone who is arrested for public drunk and disorderly?

You can go to the police station and observe as they are being processed. It can take 3-6 hours.

(6) Do I need a lawyer?

Yes. If you are charged with a crime, no matter how minor, you absolutely need an attorney. If you cannot afford one, you can complete an “Affidavit of Indigency.” If you qualify, the judge will appoint you an attorney at your first appearance date.

(7) What could a public drunk and disorderly charge cost me?

Depending on attorney and court costs, it could range from a few hundred dollars to $1,000.

Pro tips

Officer Marquis Turner has been with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department since 2008. He works in the Independence Division covering the Southeast area.


Officer Turner suggests a few tips for people who may find themselves in an “intoxicated and disruptive” situation:

  1. Know your limit. While it’s OK to go out and have a few drinks, understand that if you have too many and get out of control, you could be arrested.
  2. Timing is everything. If a friend is arrested, wait for the officer to safely secure them before asking about the charges and the arrest process.
  3. Be polite and professional. Let the situation deescalate before interacting with the officer. Screaming and yelling at them is not the correct response to the situation.
  4. Allow the criminal proceedings to take place in court. The street is not where your case or your friend’s case should be heard.

Read the law here.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed should not be considered legal advice for your specific situation.

Photos: Nathan Rupert/Flickr; Courtesy of Adam Owensby; Courtesy of Marquis Turner


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