Pedestrian under the influence arrests in Hall County
Source: Hall County Sheriff’s Office; Gainesville Police were unable to provide arrest statistics.
In Georgia, “pedestrian under the influence” is a criminal offense. So is walking while drunk illegal?
Not necessarily, legal experts said.
“It’s a bit of a misnomer,” said Gainesville attorney Arturo Corso. “It’s not that it’s just against the law to be a pedestrian under the influence; it’s against the law for a person to be intoxicated where it’s hazardous and should not walk in the roadway or the shoulder of the roadway.”
He noted that the charge is under Title 40 of Georgia code, outlining rules of the road.
John Breakfield, a Gainesville attorney and part-time prosecutor for Gainesville, said the law’s intent is to protect both pedestrians and drivers.
“In my opinion, it is a charge that is designed to protect people from getting run over while walking on the shoulder of the road or actually on the roadway itself while intoxicated,” Breakfield said. “The law also protects drivers (who) may encounter a pedestrian under the influence and result in an accident trying to avoid them.”
Solicitor-General Stephanie Woodard, who oversees prosecution of misdemeanor offenses in Hall County State Court, said her office sees a handful a month.
“It’s maybe four or five a month, and these numbers are not at all reflective of the number of DUIs this office prosecutes,” Woodard noted.
The office averages about 40 PUI cases a year, in line with arrest statistics from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. There were 51 such arrests in 2013, up 20 from the previous year and a five-year high.
The Gainesville Police Department does not keep records specifically on PUIs.
Since intoxicated walking isn’t illegal in itself, Woodard said the charge tends to feature a prominent element of danger. Arrestees aren’t people who were “walking from the Brenau amphitheater to the Jackson Building with a few drinks in their system,” she said.
“These are people taking clothes off; we have a lot of passing out on roadways,” she listed. “I can’t remember the last time I had a PUI in the daytime. Darkness, lack of visibility would create a situation where they would put themselves in a path of a car.”
It’s typically a “warm weather” offense, she said, with higher numbers in summer recreation and holiday periods.
“There’s been an event, lots of people trying to walk out of the parks — away from parades, away from fireworks — and through their impairment .... creates a situation where it was hazardous for traffic leaving,” she said.
Woodard described a general presence of overexuberance and carelessness that ramped up the likelihood of arrest.
“I recall one situation where people were dancing and dodging in the roadway because of their BAC (blood alcohol content). They’re just drunk enough where their judgment is impaired,” she said. “That boisterousness makes them behave in a manner that creates dangerous situations for drivers.”
No numerical value is assigned to the legal standard for PUI drunkenness, unlike a per se DUI at 0.08 blood alcohol concentration.
Corso said fairness from officers is paramount in any laws’ enforcement, and didn’t understate the consequences of a conviction.
“That code section says that charge is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500, but that’s not true because it is a misdemeanor punishable by 12 months in jail, just by definition,” he said.
Some PUI charges have also resulted in immigration holds, under the authority of the 287(g) federal immigration deportation program. Hall is one of four counties in Georgia and 37 law enforcement agencies across the country that has a memorandum of agreement with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and authority and training to detain noncitizens.
In looking at punishment in State Court, Woodard said cases generally fall into two categories: the one time slip-ups and possible substance abusers.
“Maybe it’s a one-time football celebration event, and it’s a fine — maybe some community service if paired with another charge,” she said.
The charge often stands alone, although it has also been charged alongside offenses like public drunkenness or obstruction.
“I do always look at histories to see if it’s someone with multiple substance offenses,” Woodard said. “They could be looking at substance abuse counseling if it looks to be a habitual drinking problem. Perhaps they lost their license and continue to get drunk where they’re creating a hazard.”
And a scenario where jail time might be most possible, she said, is if alcohol abstention was a condition of another sentence.
“If they were under sentence on a DUI, and not supposed to drink as a term, and not only drank but created a public safety hazard ... they could face jail on probation revocation as well as the new offense,” Woodard said.
But generally, she said, a more serious sentence would stress rehabilitation.
“I can think of two specific defendants where they were repeat violators in that situation,” she said. “The fine assigned was minimal, with more focus on substance abuse counseling.”