There are numerous legal implications to being intoxicated in a public place. Intoxicated persons can be taken into custody if their behaviour is likely to pose a risk of harm to themselves or other people. Police may not interview a person suspected of a crime whilst they are intoxicated. Having been intoxicated can also affect the weight given to a person’s testimony if they are required to give evidence in court in relation to something they saw or something that happened to them.
In Queensland, the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (PPRA) sets out police powers and responsibilities in respect of intoxicated persons.
Power to detain and transport intoxicated persons
Section 390E of the PPRA gives police the power to detain and transport intoxicated persons to a sober safe centre if the police believe that the person is causing a nuisance or posing a risk of harm to themselves or another person.
Sober safe centre
If a person is detained because they are intoxicated the police must inform them:
- That they are being detained and transported to a centre;
- That they will be assessed by a healthcare professional before being admitted to the centre.
Intoxicated persons who are admitted to a centre may be detained for up to eight hours, their belongings may be searched, seized and kept in safe custody while they are at the centre and they will be required to pay a cost for use of the centre.
Intoxicated persons may be released from the safe centre if the staff consider they are no longer intoxicated or if a responsible person takes them to a place of safety.
Place of safety
Under Section 378 of the PPRA, when the police arrest a person for being intoxicated in a public place, they may take the person to a place of safety other than police custody to recover from the effects of their intoxication, if they think it is more appropriate to do so. A place of safety may be a hospital, if medical treatment is required. It may also be a sobering up shelter or the person’s home or the home of a friend or family member.
However, the police may not release intoxicated persons into a place of safety if they believe that:
- A person at the place of safety is unable to provide care for the intoxicated person;
- The intoxicated person’s behaviour may pose a risk of harm to other persons.
If the intoxicated person is released to a place of safety other than their own home, the person in charge of the place of safety must sign an undertaking to provide care for them. The intoxicated person cannot be compelled to remain at the place of safety.
Questioning intoxicated persons
Under Section 423 of the PPRA, when the police wish to question a person who is affected by alcohol or drugs, they must delay the questioning until the person is no longer affected by alcohol or drugs.
Intoxication as a defence
Intoxication can be used as a defence to a criminal charge only in very limited circumstances. Section 28 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 provides that a person whose mind is disordered by the effects of alcohol or drugs has recourse to a criminal defence only if the intoxication is involuntary. Involuntary intoxication occurs when a person is forced or tricked into consuming alcohol or drugs.
However, where an element of a criminal offence is intent, the accused’s intoxication, whether voluntary or involuntary, may be taken into consideration when assessing whether they had such an intent.
Evidence of intoxicated persons
When a person witnesses an event whilst in an intoxicated state, they may be called to give evidence about what they recall. The evidence of a witness who was intoxicated is often given less weight than the evidence of a sober witness. This is particularly the case in situations where the witness is required to identify a person they did not know prior to witnessing the event or to recollect a lot of detail.
The fact that a witness was intoxicated at the time they witnessed the event does not mean their evidence will necessarily be compromised. However, it does mean that their evidence is likely to be rigorously tested and any suggestion that their faculties were impaired by their intoxication will be used to undermine its credibility.
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