Almost every State and the District of Columbia have a provision that prohibits sales and service of alcohol to intoxicated persons. The primary ways in which the States describe the offense include specific wording related to intoxication levels and the types of prohibitions enumerated. For example, the following words are used to describe intoxicated persons:

  • obviously intoxicated
  • visibly intoxicated
  • appears to be intoxicated
  • noticeably intoxicated
  • reason to believe is intoxicated
  • apparently under the influence of liquor.

At least one State, Arizona, defines what it means to be obviously intoxicated. AZ ST 4-244 states:

For purposes of this section, “obviously intoxicated” means inebriated to the extent that a person's physical faculties are substantially impaired and the impairment is shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction that would have been obvious to a reasonable person.

Although there is variation in the language used to describe the state of intoxication, it does not appear to make a practical difference in terms of court interpretation or enforcement practices.

Differences across State statutes also include the standard of proof required as evidence of intoxication. For example, some States require knowledge of the person's intoxication, although most apply a negligence standard (a reasonable person in like circumstances should have known that the person was intoxicated). The only method for determining the standard of proof applied in a given State is to analyze case law, and, in many cases, such an analysis will be inconclusive. Therefore we did not attempt to catalog the standard of proof variable.

Furnishing Alcohol to Intoxicated Individuals

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