California Drunk in Public Law – PC 647(f)
Drunk in public laws are covered under California Penal Code Section 647(f). It’s more infamous names are “public intoxication” or “drunk and disorderly.” However, in spite of its popular name, simply being drunk in public is not typically considered a crime.
In most public intoxication cases in Los Angeles County, if you are observed being extremely intoxicated and can’t take care of yourself, police officers have the option of detaining you for your own safety in a “drunk tank.” This detention is commonly known as civil protective custody.
If Los Angeles police place you under civil protective custody, they can hold you for up to 72-hours and prosecutors will not file charges against you later. It’s important to note this option is only available if police believe you are intoxicated. If they believe you are under the influence of a controlled substance, they will pursue criminal charges under California Health and Safety Code 11550.
It’s also important to note that not all cities in Los Angeles County will place you under civil protective custody because they don’t have a drunk tank facility, meaning you will face criminal charges for drunk in public. In Los Angeles County, a common example of personal behavior that could result in drunk in public charges includes a situation where someone who is highly intoxicated and passed out on the sidewalk, forcing others to walk around or over them.
Drunk in public is a misdemeanor crime than can lead to jail time and a fine. If convicted, it will appear on your criminal record where it can be seen by potential employers. Obviously, having a public intoxication conviction of your record can have a negative impact on your chances of obtaining employment. Therefore, it’s clearly in your best interest to fight drunk in public charges. It may be possible to have your drunk in public charge expunged, if you have successfully completed the terms of your probation.
If you or a family member has been charged with drunk in public, it’s important to consult with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP as soon as possible. In too many cases, people who have been charged with drunk in public will settle for a public defender and accept a quick plea deal, leading to a conviction on their record.
Our law firm will closely review the details of your case, explain what the prosecutor needs to prove for a conviction, and discuss legal option moving forward. First, let’s examine the legal definition of drunk in public below.
California Penal Code Section 647(f) – Drunk In Public
Under California Penal Code Section 647(f), it’s illegal to be under the influence in a public place if you can’t care for your own safety or safety of others, or while you obstruct or prevent use of a public sidewalk or street. The legal definition states in part:
Every person who commits following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor; (f) Who is found in any public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor, drugs, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination that leaves them in a condition that they are unable to exercise care for their own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of them being under the influence, interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way.
In order to be convicted of drunk in public, the prosecutor has to be able to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, the following elements of the crime:
- You were willfully under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a controlled substance
- You were in a public place while being under the influence, AND
- You were unable to exercise care for your own or safety of others, OR
- You were interfering with, obstructing, or preventing the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way
By legal definition, the term “willfully” means deliberate or on purpose. A controlled substance is any drug regulated by the government, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, or prescription drugs. Toluene is an inhalant, such as glue or nitrous oxide. A public place is any place that is accessible to the public.
This could include a sidewalk, street, highway, restaurant, bar, shopping mall, park, or even most homeless encampments. Unable to exercise care for your own safety or the safety of others means your condition was so bad you lacked the ability to take care of yourself, or the safety of other people.
In simple terms, it means it was determined you were a public safety risk. Finally, interfering or obstructing access means your condition blocked access to a public way, which could include passing out on a sidewalk or bus stop bench.
Legal Penalties for Public Intoxication
A violation of Penal Code 647(f), drunk in public, is a misdemeanor offense. If convicted, you could face the following legal penalties:
- Up to 6 month county jail sentence
- Up to a $1,000 fine
- Informal probation, commonly known as summary probation
However, if you have been convicted of drunk in public 3 times within the past year, you could face a minimum sentence of 90 days in county jail, but the court could suspend this requirement if you attend 60 days in an alcohol treatment and recovery program.
Legal Defense against Public Intoxication Charges
A Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer can use a variety of legal defenses on your behalf against charges of drunk in public, in violation of Penal Code 647(f). These defenses include:
- Unlawful arrest – If you were arrested in a home, apartment, or hotel room, then you can’t be guilty of public intoxication. The offense must be in a public place.
- Insufficient evidence – If the prosecutor can’t prove you were willfully intoxicated to a level where you were unable to take care of yourself or other around you, then they don’t have sufficient evidence for a conviction.
In many Los Angeles County cities, there is a lot of public pressure on the police to clean up parts of the city. In response, police will arrest individuals who are not overly intoxicated just to remove them from a public place.
Due to the minor nature of the offense, it's frequentlty possible to enroll in a diversion program where you may complete an alternative sentence, such as community service or Alcoholics Anonymous classes, and then have the charges dismissed completely. For most people, the most important consideration is to keep a criminal conviction off their record.
Call a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with drunk in public, in violation of California Penal Code Section 547(f), you should contact an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP right away.
Having a public intoxication conviction on your criminal record can have a devastating impact on your future. Our law firm offers a free immediate response. Call our law office at 877-781-1570.