Colorado Public Intoxication Laws


We all enjoy an occasional good time out with friends and a few drinks, but when does a good time cross the line into public intoxication, and how do Colorado laws address this issue? Whether you live in Colorado or plan a visit to the Rocky Mountain State, you may wish to have a clear understanding of how law enforcement in Colorado handles the issue of public intoxication. If you plan a fun evening out on the town, should you worry that you or a friend could end up in a jail cell?

Colorado’s Stance on Public Intoxication

Unlike many states that categorize public intoxication itself as a crime, Colorado views being drunk in public as a health issue, not a criminal one. The state does not have a law against public intoxication but instead trains emergency services to respond to a publicly intoxicated person with first aid and transportation to a safe destination. Not only that, but the state legislature prohibits local municipalities from enacting public intoxication laws that would criminalize public drunkenness.

Does the fact that Colorado does not have a law against public intoxication mean that you can’t be arrested while drunk? No. It’s still possible to be placed under arrest while publically intoxicated, but only if you commit a crime while drunk. However, it’s important to understand that this applies to more than committing crimes such as engaging in a bar fight, robbing a store, or stealing a car while drunk. Though Colorado doesn’t have laws against public intoxication, the state does have laws against disorderly conduct, presenting a public nuisance, and harassment—all of which are commonly associated with drunkenness.

What is Disorderly Conduct in Colorado?

Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor crime in Colorado. A conviction for disorderly conduct comes with fines of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months of jail time. Disorderly conduct in Colorado includes:

  • Causing significant noise in a residential area
  • Shouting offensive words and language in a residential area
  • Shouting and making offensive gestures in a public place

Actions that incite violence and/or disturb the peace in residential areas can result in a disorderly conduct charge whether or not the suspect is intoxicated.

What is a Public Nuisance in Colorado?

Colorado also has laws against presenting a public nuisance. Whether or not you are intoxicated, you could find yourself charged with the crime of public nuisance if you’re disturbing the peace in a residential area or in a public place by engaging in behaviors such as:

  • Illegal gambling
  • Selling illegal drugs
  • Selling stolen goods
  • Solicitation of prostitutes

Anything that interferes with others’ peaceful use and enjoyment of private or public property could result in charges of public nuisance.

What is a Criminal Charge of Harassment in Colorado?

Harassment is a class-3 misdemeanor crime in Colorado. An individual could face harassment charges whether drunk or sober. Harassment could mean engaging in any of the following behaviors:

  • Shouting obscenities at someone
  • Making obscene gestures or suggestions to another
  • Making persistent unwanted sexual advances
  • Purposefully following or intimidating a person
  • Loudly insulting or provoking another person
  • Acting with intent to challenge, annoy, or alarm another

The takeaway of Colorado’s public intoxication laws is that an officer may arrest a publically drunk individual if they are behaving in an unlawful way, including several behaviors often associated with drunkenness, but intoxication itself is not a crime.