Judge rules that Scottsdale can't prosecute for public drunkeness

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - Scottsdale can't prosecute people for being incapacitated in public because they're under the influence of alcohol, a state appellate court said Tuesday in the latest setback for Arizona communities trying to cope with public intoxication.

A three-judge Court of Appeals panel said Scottsdale's law is pre-empted by a 1972 state law prohibiting local governments from imposing penalties for being intoxicated in public.

Scottsdale enacted the ordinance to help curb rowdy behavior in the Phoenix suburb's downtown entertainment district where there are numerous bars and clubs.

Kenneth Flint, a lawyer for the city prosecutor's office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling, including whether it would be appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Elsewhere in the state, officials from several northern Arizona communities bordering the Navajo Nation in the past decade have unsuccessfully sought legislative action to allow them to temporarily lock up inebriated people at risk of harm from freezing temperatures and other hazards

  The sale and consumption of alcohol on the Navajo Nation, a massive expanse of land that stretches into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, is banned in all but a couple of places.

In the Scottsdale case, the Court of Appeals ruling cited the Legislature's decision in 1972 to decriminalize public intoxication and to treat alcoholism as a disease. The 1972 law changes didn't affect prohibitions against drunken driving or similar offenses.

A Scottsdale municipal judge had ruled in 2012 that a man arrested in 2011 couldn't be prosecuted under the city's ordinance, but city prosecutors appealed.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge then ruled in early 2013 that local laws against intoxication aren't barred when the offense includes being under the influence of alcohol.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that Scottsdale law conflicts with state law and is pre-empted.

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