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Public-intoxication law is voided by Arizona appeals court

Posted May 8, 2014 12:08 PM CDT
By Mark Hansen

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An Arizona appeals court has overturned a Scottsdale municipal ordinance barring people from being intoxicated in public.

In a ruling Tuesday, the Arizona Court of Appeals said the ordinance is preempted by a 1972 state law that prohibits municipalities from criminalizing "being a common drunkard or being found in an intoxicated condition," the Arizona Republic reports.

In its ruling, the court said that it was clearly the state's intent to treat alcoholism as a disease rather than a crime, unless someone under the influence is engaged in a dangerous activity, such as driving.

Defense lawyer Tracey Westerhausen said if the ruling stands, any municipal public-intoxication ordinance in Arizona will be unenforceable.

"An obvious concern is, as the Court of Appeals said, this is a health issue, not a criminal issue," Westerhausen told the newspaper in an email. "Another is differing treatment of the issue by varying cities."

Scottsdale City Attorney Bruce Washburn said city officials were reviewing the decision to determine whether an appeal should be filed with the Arizona Supreme Court.

Scottsdale police Sgt. Mark Clark said the ordinance had rarely been enforced.

"The ordinance was designed to keep people safe when they were intoxicated in public," he said, but noted that police have other ways of ensuring the safety of those who are inebriated.

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