No Federal Civil Rights Remedy Against Public Drunkenness Laws

In 1977, New Jersey passed a law that prohibited municipalities from making public drunkenness a punishable offense. Even so, many towns kept local ordinances that made public intoxication illegal. Maple Shade is one such place. Actually, the township didn’t even pass its current public intoxication ordinance until 1997, a full 20 years after the state said that they couldn’t create such a law. (Who says that the government has to obey the law?)

Two men were arrested in Maple Shade for breaking the law. Of course, they sued the township in federal court. The men claimed that the town violated their civil rights, by prosecuting them under an illegal ordinance.

The lawsuit was only half successful. As a result of the lawsuit, many towns with public intoxication ordinances repealed them. However, the court refused to award the men any money damages. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the court ruled that there is no civil right to be drunk in a public place. The court also found that another New Jersey law, one that allows towns to pass laws against vice, drunkenness, and immorality, might allow towns to pass public intoxication laws.

For now, the safe money says keep your drunkenness indoors.