Intoxicated Persons and Criminal Law (Qld) | Armstrong Legal

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This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom - Content Editor - Brisbane

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

Intoxicated Persons and Criminal Law (Qld)


There are numerous legal implications of being intoxicated in a public place. An intoxicated person can be taken into custody if they are behaving in a way that is likely to cause harm to themselves or other people. Police are not allowed to interview a suspect about a crime whilst the person is intoxicated. Intoxication can also affect the weight given to the testimony of a witness if they are required to give evidence in court.

In Queensland, the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (PPRA) sets out the powers and responsibilities of police in respect of intoxicated persons.

Power to detain and transport intoxicated persons

Under section 390E of the PPRA, Queensland police have the power to detain and transport an intoxicated person to a sober safe centre if they believe that the person is causing a nuisance or posing a risk of harm to themselves or to someone else.

Sober safe centre

If a person is detained because of their intoxication the police must inform them:

  • That they are being detained and transported to a sober safe centre;
  • That they will be seen and assessed by a healthcare professional before being admitted to the sober safe centre.

Intoxicated persons who are admitted to a sober safe centre may be detained for up to eight hours. They will be required to pay a fee for the use of the centre.  

A person may be released from the centre if they are no longer intoxicated in the view of the staff or if they are taken to a place of safety by a responsible person.

Place of safety

When the police arrest a person for being intoxicated in public under section 378 of the PPRA, they may take the person to another place of safety rather than police custody to recover, if they think it is appropriate to do so. This may be a hospital if medical treatment is needed. It may also be a sobering-up shelter, the person’s home or the home of a friend or family member of the person. 

However, the police may not release an intoxicated person into a place of safety if:  

  • They do not believe that a person at the place of safety is able to provide care for the intoxicated person;
  • The intoxicated person’s behaviour poses a risk of harm to others.

If an intoxicated person is released to a place of safety other than their own home, the person in charge of the place must sign an undertaking to care for them. However, the intoxicated person cannot be compelled to remain at the place of safety.

Questioning intoxicated suspects

Under Section 423 of the PPRA, when police wish to interview a person who is affected by drugs or alcohol, they must delay the interview until the suspect is no longer affected by alcohol or drugs. 

Intoxication as a defence

Intoxication can be used as a criminal defence only in very limited circumstances. Under section 28 of the Criminal Code Act 1899, a person whose mind is disordered by alcohol or drugs has a criminal defence only if their intoxication is involuntary. Involuntary intoxication is when a person is forced or tricked into taking alcohol or drugs.

However, where a criminal offence has a mental element of intent, an accused’s intoxication, whether it is voluntary or involuntary, may be taken into consideration in assessing whether they had such an intent.

Evidence of intoxicated persons

After a person witnesses an event whilst intoxicated, they may be called to give evidence. The evidence of a witness who was intoxicated is usually given less weight than would be given to the evidence of a sober witness. This is particularly so in situations where the witness is required to identify someone they did not know prior to the event or to recall a lot of detail about what occurred.

The fact that a witness was intoxicated does not necessarily mean their evidence will be compromised. However, it does mean that it is likely to be rigorously tested at cross-examination and any suggestion that their faculties were impaired by intoxication will be used to undermine its credibility.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal. 

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