Public drunkenness

Public drunkenness

Victoria’s Summary Offences Act 1966 lists a number of offences that the police can charge you with if they think you are drunk while in a public place. The Act also covers the law about cycling while drunk.

Police may think that you are drunk if your speech, co-ordination, balance or behaviour is noticeably affected and they believe this is because you have been drinking alcohol.

Offences

Drunk in a public place

If the police think you are drunk in a public place they may arrest you and place you in custody. They may do this if they think it is necessary for your safety.

Drunk and disorderly in a public place

‘Disorderly’ behaviour is acting in a way that disturbs the peace or interferes with the comfort of people who may be nearby. You can be charged if the police think your behaviour is intended to disturb, even if no one is actually disturbed by it.

Drunk and behaving in a riotous or disorderly manner

Riotous behaviour is behaviour that frightens a member of the public and makes them fear that some breach of the peace is likely to occur.

Disorderly has the same meaning as above, but the police may charge you with this, more serious, offence if they think your disorderly behaviour is severe.

Controlling alcohol-related violence in public places

Police have power to ban ‘troublemakers’ from some places where alcohol-related violence has happened before. People can only be banned from areas that have been identified as a trouble spot or ‘designated area’.

You can be banned for up to 24 hours if police suspect you have committed an offence such as:

If you are found guilty of committing one of the listed offences within a designated area, the court can order you to stay away from that area for up to 12 months.

Getting barred from a licensed place

You can be issued with a barring order if you are in a licensed place (like a bar, restaurant or night club) and:

  • you are drunk, violent or arguing
  • someone in authority believes that there is a serious or immediate risk that someone will be harmed because you have been drinking.

The order can be issued by the police, licence or permit holder or an employee.

If you get a barring order you must not go closer than 20 metres to the place you were barred from.

You can be barred for up to one month if it is your first order. If you have been barred more than once you can be barred for up to six months.

You are breaching (breaking) the order if you:

  • refuse to leave the licensed place
  • go closer than 20 metres to the place during the time that you are barred.

Breaching an order is an offence. You may be fined.

On-the-spot fines

Police can issue on-the-spot fines for public drunkenness or for breaching a barring order.

Police can also issue fines on-the-spot or by post to people aged over 18 for a number of common offences, including:

  • indecent language
  • offensive behaviour
  • consuming or supplying liquor on unlicensed premises
  • failure to leave licensed premises when requested.

If you do not pay the fine or take other action by the due date it may end up costing you more money. See Options for dealing with fines.

Police policy and procedure

Arrest and custody

If you are arrested you will be taken into custody at a police station. You will normally only be kept in custody until the police think you are sober enough to leave – usually around four hours.

While you are in custody, police must check on you regularly to make sure you’re okay, and must call for medical help if they think you need it.

Police have legal obligations when they arrest:

  • young people: if you are under 18, your parent, guardian or an ‘independent person’ must be with you before you can be questioned. Depending on your age, there are also laws about things like searching you, examining your body or taking samples from it and taking your fingerprints. See Young people and the police.
  • people with mental health issues: an Independent Third Person (ITP) must be with you when police ask you questions, fingerprint you or if they take any samples from your body, such as hair. The ITP helps you and the police understand each other; they do not give legal advice.
  • Indigenous people: the police must tell the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Community Justice Panel that you’ve been arrested.

Sobering-up centres

If there is a sobering-up centre in the area, the police may release you into the custody of a representative of the centre. You will not be charged with an offence.

As well as providing a safe place for people to sober up, these centres help people with alcohol-related problems. They can refer you to health services and other support services.

Being charged

It is up to the police officer to decide whether to charge you with an offence. If they decide not to charge you, you may get a caution instead.

Bail

If you have been charged with one of these offences you will usually be bailed and allowed to leave the police station, unless you have been charged with other, more serious offences as well.

Usually you will be given an undertaking of bail form that says you promise to go to court on the date your case is listed.

Court hearing and judgement

Should I go to court for the hearing?

Going to the hearing gives you a chance to tell your side of the story to the magistrate.

If you don’t attend court the matter will usually be heard without you and the magistrate will make a decision anyway. This is called an ‘ex parte’ hearing. The magistrate will make a finding based on police evidence.

Get legal advice if you want to argue against the charge.

Will I get a conviction?

Although it is possible, it’s unlikely you will be convicted (be found guilty and given a penalty) for an offence of public drunkenness, unless there are other, associated offences – such as violence or obscene behaviour – or you have previously been found guilty by a court for this type of offence.

If you are convicted and you spent time in police custody when you were arrested, the magistrate will probably say that this is enough punishment for the offence and discharge you unconditionally.

Any conviction will appear on your criminal record.

Can I be put on a diversion program instead?

Diversion programs let some people avoid getting a criminal record by doing agreed activities. Diversion programs are usually only an option for first-time offenders.

To apply for a diversion program you must admit that you committed the offence and apologise for it. The police must also agree.

The activities may include:

  • taking part in an alcohol-education program
  • paying an amount of money to charity
  • doing community service.

Once you have completed the conditions of your diversion program the charges against you are discharged. If you do not complete the conditions the case will be heard at court and you may be convicted.

Penalties

These offences carry the following penalties if you are convicted:

  • drunk in a public place: maximum of eight penalty units
  • drunk and disorderly:
    • first offence – maximum of 20 penalty unit or three days prison
    • second or subsequent offence – 20 penalty units or one month prison
  • drunk and behaving in a riotous or disorderly manner: maximum of 10 penalty units or prison for two months.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with criminal offences.