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Police Targeting Public Intoxication in Ocean City, Maryland

     It appears that the Ocean City Police Department is using the public intoxication statute this summer to target jay-walkers for prosecution with a criminal offense in Ocean City, Maryland. Ocean City has a serious problem with pedestrian injuries and deaths resulting from motor vehicles hitting jay-walking pedestrians. Many of these pedestrian/vehicle collisions result from intoxicated pedestrians attempting to cross congested roads such as Coastal Highway between intersections. For years the Town of Ocean City has been attempting to reduce the number of pedestrian injuries and deaths with a public information campaign, additional crosswalks, and other measures. Crossing a roadway between intersections where a crosswalk is provided is a violation of the Maryland Traffic Code. The preset fine for this offense is $50.

     This summer, it appears that the Ocean City Police Department will not be satisfied with a $50 fine for the jay-walking offense under the Transportation Article. Instead, the Ocean City Police are issuing citations for the criminal offense of Public Intoxication when an apparent intoxicated person walks in a road outside of a crosswalk. This is a criminal offense with a maximum statutory penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $100 fine under Annotated Code of Maryland, Article 2B, section 19-101. This offense requires an appearance in the Ocean City District Court.

Section 19-101 prohibits the following acts: "A person may not:

(1) Be intoxicated and endanger the safety of another person or property; or

(2) Be intoxicated or drink any alcoholic beverage in a public place and cause a public disturbance.

     The Ocean City Police application of this statute to drunk jay-walkers is an imaginitive use of the law and seems to unreasonably stretch the intended purpose of the statute. The only concievable way the statute applies to jay-walkers would be under a theory that the pedestrian is endangering the motor vehicles (property) on the road.  In other words, if a vehicle strikes the pedestrian, the vehicle will be damaged.  The State should have a difficult time proving the elements of this crime in this circumstance.  First, the State will have to prove that the person was intoxicated by alcohol (not drugs).  This may be difficult without a breath test.  Second, the State must prove that the person endangered another person or property.  The pedestrian is endangering his own personal safety by jaywalking but not the safety of another person.  The argument that the pedestrian is endangering vehicles on the road, especially absent an actual collision, is too remote to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the statute is unconstitutionally vague.

     Any person charged with Public Intoxication in Ocean City, Maryland, should retain an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney to represent him/her in this case. There are good defenses to the charge. 

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