Various jurisdictions in Texas have made news over the last several years for sending vice squads into bars and arresting patrons for drinking. Not drinking and driving, mind you. Just drinking. In a bar.
In a scary piece for Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein delves into just how ridiculously broad and vague the state's public intoxication laws really are. Exceprt:
The public intoxication standard, backed by the Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is so broad that you can be arrested on just a police officer's hunch, without being given a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test. State courts have not only upheld the practice but expanded the definition of public intoxication to cover pretty much any situation, says Robert Guest, a criminal defense attorney in Dallas. "Having no standard allows the police to arrest whoever pisses them off and call it PI," he says, adding, "If you have a violent, homophobic, or just an asshole of a cop and you give him the arbitrary power to arrest anyone for PI, you can expect violent, homophobic, and asshole-ic behavior."
For some officers, PI has provided a ready-made reason for detaining minorities. A Houston defense attorney, who asks to be unnamed since he specializes in misdemeanors such as PI, puts it this way: "If you're brown and you're around—you're going down." Nick Novello, a 27-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, blew the whistle on three colleagues who he claims filled their arrest quotas by picking up people, mostly minorities, for PI. "They were illegally arrested," Novello says. "It's an absolute perversion." (Two were removed from the force.)
According to a recent report by sociology and law professors at the University of California-Berkeley, the Dallas suburb of Irving has used "discretionary" public intoxication arrests to fish for undocumented immigrants.