Attorneys representing John Price have successfully overturned a Scottsdale ordinance that bans public drunkards from wandering the streets. Judge James Blake, in a well-reasoned opinion, held that the city had no legal grounds to enforce their law.

It is strange to think that the State of Arizona prohibits cities from enacting legislation that bans public intoxication. However, A.R.S. 36-2031 (A) states that no local government may enact or enforce a law that includes drunkenness or intoxication as an element of the offense. It seems that the Scottsdale CityAttorneys Office never looked at the law.

I’m not sure why this law exists, but I’m glad that it does. There is nothing wrong with going out on the town and drinking to intoxication. If you get to a point where you are disturbing the peace and quiet of a person or neighborhood, then you can get charged with disorderly conduct, a class one misdemeanor. But if you quietly want to get bombed, and not bother anyone around you, have at it.

I’ll tell you the thing that is most striking about this case. Here you have a Scottsdale law that very clearly violates State law. The State law prohibits a local law that criminalized “intoxicated conditions.” The Scottsdale law makes it illegal to be in public, “under the influence of alcohol,” and who may endanger himself or others. The Scottsdale prosecutor had the ability to do the right thing and admit that the law clearly violated the Arizona Revised Statutes. Instead, they argued that “intoxication” and “under the influence” are not synonymous. Wow.

Thankfully, the Judge ruled correctly that the two terms are equal. It always amazes me when a prosecutor makes an argument that is so far outside common sense. I get it when a criminal defense attorney is creative. After all, the facts are typically not completely on our side. But it seems odd to me that the State would go on record with such a ridiculous argument. There is nothing in it for the prosecutor. Just admit that the law was drafted incorrectly and move on.

Finally, it just goes to show that if you are charged with a crime, you may have a defense even if the facts are against you. As attorneys, our job is to make sure that our clients are defended from the unfair application of law. In this case, the City had no business enacting or enforcing this law. I’m glad to see it overturned.

Criminal defense attorney Nick Alcock

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