Public Swearing or Public Intoxication in Virginia

Technically, it is still against the law to be intoxicated in public or to swear in public. These laws may seem outdated but this will not stop an officer from charging a defendant as a way to penalize someone for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Public swearing is generally only punishable by a fine. However, the police may still be able to arrest someone for public swearing or being drunk in public, which can be embarrassing and force someone to spend time and money to clear their name.

Profane Swearing and Intoxication Statute in Virginia  

Under Virginia Code § 18.2-388, it is a Class 4 misdemeanor for anyone to do the following in public:

  • Profanely curse or swear, or
  • Be intoxicated.

What is Profane Cursing or Swearing?

Using profanity, curse words, or swearing in public does not have a clear definition. What is profane to one person may just be everyday speech to another. The specific words that would constitute cursing or swearing may depend on the individual police officer who does not like the way someone is talking.

What is Intoxication in Public?

Public intoxication, sometimes called being “drunk in public,” can also be difficult to define. Intoxication can be defined as having consumed enough alcohol to affect an individual's manner, disposition, speech, movement, appearance, or behavior. There is not a set blood-alcohol level limit to consider someone per se intoxicated in public.

Being in public while drunk could include walking down the street, hanging out in a park, or even tailgating. In some cases, being on private property may be considered as “in public.” For example, the prosecutor may try and prove that standing in the front yard next to a public sidewalk is “in public” for the sake of this statute.

Penalties for Swearing and Public Intoxication

Public intoxication or public swearing is a Class 4 misdemeanor in Virginia. The penalties for a class 4 misdemeanor include a fine of up to $250.

Some people may not consider a charge with only a fine as something worth challenging. However, even a minor misdemeanor could result in a criminal record. Individuals who plead guilty to or are convicted of public intoxication may have that charge show up on a background check. Even if it isn't a serious crime, the individual may be on the defensive explaining what they did and why they pleaded guilty.  

Legal Defenses to Public Swearing and Drunk in Public in Virginia  

Defenses may include arguing that the defendant is not guilty based on:

  • Mistaken identification,
  • Mistaken understanding of what the defendant said,
  • Defendant was not intoxicated, or
  • Defendant was not in public.

Charlottesville Criminal Defense Lawyer

The prosecutor may use a public swearing or drunk in public charge as a bargaining chip to get an individual to accept a plea deal. Before accepting any plea agreement and giving up your rights to challenge the charges, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney about how to fight criminal charges and avoid a criminal conviction. Contact me today for a free consultation.

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