Public intoxication might become a jail offense in city

Sep 6, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

The Riverton City Council passed the first reading Tuesday of a new ordinance that would allow the municipal judge to hand out jail sentences of up to 180 days for public intoxication.

The current ordinance only allows for convicts to be fined.

However, the plan doesn't signal the city's intent to take a more-strict approach to alcohol abuse. City prosecutor Rick Sollars proposed the ordinance change to allow judge Teresa McKee to order probation, as well as substance abuse assessments and treatment, for people convicted of public intoxication.

Orders for treatment, including admittance to the Center of Hope treatment center, already is an approach that McKee takes often.

However, the Wyoming Supreme Court recently ruled that such sentences are not allowed when an ordinance does not also allow for jail time.

Council member Tim Hancock, a prosecutor for Fremont County, said the ordinance change is needed so "that if someone is put on probation, we're not violating anything that the Supreme Court said that we're not allowed to do."

The state of Wyoming doesn't have its own public intoxication laws. However, state law does provide that a "pedestrian who is under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance to a degree which renders himself a hazard shall not walk or be upon a highway."

Because both Main Street and Federal Boulevard both fall under that condition, Riverton police chief Eric Murphy said people arrested on those streets have typically been charged with the state crime to ensure greater leeway in sentencing.

Murphy said the ordinance change might lead to a slight increase in jail time for public intoxication charges, but he said it's unlikely to impact the city's jail budget noticeably.

Interim city administrator Courtney Bohlender said it's been "exhilarating" to have a council that's been so involved in ordinances.

In the first half of 2017, city council has already passed 20 ordinances. Just five were passed in 2016, with 11 passed the year prior.

Bohlender said the scrutiny of ordinances by council members has been important for city staff to "question why and how we're doing things."

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