Public Intoxication Laws and Penalties in South Carolina

Public intoxication falls under disorderly conduct laws in South Carolina Code § 16-17-530.

Contact the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Shealey Law Firm for legal help if you are facing public intoxication charges.

What is the public intoxication law in South Carolina?

South Carolina Code § 16-17-530 prohibits public intoxication in South Carolina. The law defines the offense as being in a public place or public gathering in a grossly intoxicated condition.

What constitutes public intoxication in South Carolina?

A person is guilty of public intoxication in South Carolina if they are:

  • Found in a public place, highway, or at a public gathering
  • In a grossly intoxicated condition or otherwise conducting themselves in a disorderly or boisterous manner

While the elements described above cover disorderly conduct by manner of public intoxication, the law covers several additional types of public disorderly conduct in South Carolina as well.

Public Disorderly Conduct in South Carolina

Public disorderly conduct in South Carolina includes:

  • Gross intoxication
  • Acting in a disorderly or boisterous manner
  • Using obscenities or profanities
  • Discharging a firearm on or within 50 yards of a public highway, while under the influence of alcohol, and without just cause, except on your own property

These behaviors, when done in a public place, fall under the South Carolina disorderly conduct law.

Penalties for Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct in South Carolina is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $100.

Conditional Discharge and Public Intoxication Charges in South Carolina

South Carolina Code § 16-17-530(B) creates the possibility for conditional discharge of public intoxication charges. To qualify, a person must:

  • Not have any prior convictions for disorderly conduct
  • Plead guilty or be found guilty
  • Consent to participate in the conditional discharge program
  • Complete the terms of probation, which may include substance abuse treatment
  • Pay a summary fee of $150 to the court

When the court allows a conditional discharge, the court defers further proceedings, and there is no judgment of guilt. Instead, the person is placed on probation, which may include treatment and rehabilitation.

If the person fulfills the terms and conditions of the probation, the charges against them are dismissed. If the person fails to complete their probation, the adjudication of guilt enters, and the person may be sentenced.

Even if the person fulfills the terms of a conditional discharge, law enforcement keeps a nonpublic record.

The nonpublic record can determine if the person is eligible for a conditional dismissal if they are charged with a new offense in the future. You can receive only one conditional discharge for public intoxication charges in South Carolina.

After the charges are dismissed by conditional discharge, the person may apply for expungement of arrest and court records. When a conditional discharge is completed fully and correctly, there is no public record.

If you are charged with public intoxication or disorderly conduct in South Carolina, conditional discharge may be right for you. When we represent you, our lawyers explain what is required to receive a conditional discharge and what to consider as you proceed.

Is disorderly conduct the same as public intoxication in South Carolina?

Yes. Public intoxication is one type of disorderly conduct in South Carolina. All disorderly conduct charges fall under South Carolina Code § 16-17-530.

Defenses to Public Intoxication Charges

Defenses to public intoxication charges may include:

  • You were not in a public place
  • You were not grossly intoxicated
  • There was no disorderly or boisterous conduct
  • Free speech protects your behavior
  • There are differences between the police allegations against you and your actual conduct
  • It was a mistaken identity – the wrong person was charged
  • There was an emergency that excuses your conduct
  • You didn’t disturb or endanger anyone

Public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges are open to interpretation. What may be offensive or disorderly to one person may be acceptable conduct to someone else. Ultimately, if you are charged with public intoxication, you have the right to have a jury decide the charges against you. Even if the police took offense to your conduct, it is the jury that makes the final decision.

The best way to defend against public intoxication laws depends on the totality of the circumstances. As lawyers for public intoxication charges, Shealey Law Firm reviews the strength of the evidence against you, other charges you may be facing, the viability of defenses, and your criminal history. We explain the various options and what you need to consider as we create a defense strategy. Then, we aggressively represent your interests, including at all court proceedings and during trial.

Does the public intoxication law apply to someone who is riding in a motor vehicle?

You can be arrested for public intoxication in South Carolina when you are riding in a motor vehicle. In State v. Galloway, 407 S.E.2d 662 (S.C. Ct. App. 1991), the court stated the public intoxication law applies to a passenger in a motor vehicle. In the Galloway case, the person was in a vehicle stopped on suspicion of drunk driving. The passenger threw a beer can and plastic cup on the road, and shouted obscenities and vulgarities. The court upheld a charge of public intoxication for the passenger’s conduct.

See also State v. Pittman, 537 S.E.2d 563 (S.C. Ct. App. 2000).

What counts as a public place for the South Carolina public intoxication law?

To be guilty of public intoxication in South Carolina, the person must be in a public place, defined as a location where the general public has the right to resort. Usually, it is a place frequented by many people and accessible to the public. It may be a place where the public has an interest affecting the safety, health, morals, and welfare of the community.

See State v. Williams, 312 S.E.2d 555 (S.C. 1984).

Talk to a Public Intoxication Defense Lawyer

If you’re charged with public intoxication, you deserve a skilled and aggressive legal defense. Shealey Law Firm represents people charged with disorderly conduct including public intoxication. Contact us now to talk to a lawyer.


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