Public Intoxication

Drunk in Public (Public Intoxication) Laws, penal code 647(f) PC, might suggest that it’s a crime to be drunk in public. That’s not really the case. For public intoxication to be considered a crime, each of the following elements must apply:

  1. Intoxication must be willful.

    This means that if someone else offers you drinks or drugs without your knowledge and this results in public intoxication charges, you are not guilty because you did not knowingly get intoxicated.

  2. You were intoxicated in a public place.

    Public places would include places of business, streets and sidewalks, hallways in an apartment building and even an area in front of another person’s home. There doesn’t have to be other people around; as long as the place is classified as public, you’re in violation of public intoxication laws.

  3. Your level of intoxication was so high that:
    • You cannot exercise safety for yourself or others.
    • You prevent others from using public spaces, roads, streets and sidewalks.

Each of these elements must be present – and provable – in order for the prosecutor to convict you of public intoxication. In some cases, if you are in public and very drunk, but can care for yourself and are not disrupting public space, you have not violated the public intoxication statute.

If you are arrested by a police officer for simply being drunk, you should contact a lawyer immediately to help with any pending charges.

Examples of intoxicated behavior that violates public intoxication laws:

  • If you are very drunk in a bar and you start threatening people and/or throwing things.
  • If while intoxicated, you lie down on the street, or walk into the street, forcing traffic to stop or drivers to swerve to avoid hitting you.
  • If you pass out on a sidewalk or the corridors of a mall and people have to walk around you or step over you.

Public intoxication is a misdemeanor offence that’s punishable by

  • Up to 6 months in county jail,
  • A fine of up to $1000,
  • Both jail time and fines,
  • Probation.

Even if you don’t get jail time, a public intoxication conviction will show on your criminal record and affect your chances for employment and professional licenses. Therefore, hiring an experienced criminal attorney to avoid or reduce these charges is an excellent decision.

If within 1 year you get up to 3 public intoxication convictions, you’ll serve a minimum of 90 days in county jail. However, if you attend a rehabilitation program for 60 days, the court could suspend your jail sentence. These cases are highly negotiable and the possibility for mitigation by way of performing services like attending AA meetings, or enrolling one’s self in a rehabilitation program can help you gain a favorable outcome.

Other options: Civil protective custody

Instead of filing charges against you, the police may choose to hold you for 72 hours in an intoxication treatment facility (“the drunk tank”). This is known as civil protective custody and if the police go with this option, the prosecutor might not charge you with the crime of public intoxication.

However, these facilities are few in California and are an option only if you are under the influence of alcohol alone and no other drugs. The police will also not opt for civil protective custody if they believe you’ll attempt to escape.

Regardless, if you are arrested on public intoxication charge, expect to spend at least 6 hours in custody. This is meant to protect you and the public from your inebriation.

Defenses against public intoxication charges

The following are some common defenses that your attorney could use to reduce charges or get them dismissed:

  1. There’s no sufficient evidence supporting allegations.
  2. Someone placed an intoxicating substance in your drink (e.g., Rufilin, Mickey, or other substance surreptitiously inserted into an unsuspecting person’s beverage.)
  3. You were not in public.
  4. Your civil rights were violated by the police. For instance, if the police fabricated evidence against you, performed an illegal search or arrested you without observing you.

In any case, if you have been charged with public intoxication, contact our Irvine Lawyer today to talk about your PC 647 charges.

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