Drunk in Public

Public Intoxication or “Drunk in Public,” California Penal Code 647(f), is a conviction on your record that you want to avoid if you possibly can. Drunk in Public may be charged in cases where a person is so drunk that he cannot care for his own safety, however, Drunk in Public also may be charged in cases where law enforcement has had an encounter with someone under the influence who has done something to upset the arresting officer.

To convict you of drunk in public, the district attorney needs to prove that:

(1) You were willfully under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and

(2) At the time you were under the influence, you were in a public place (this may include a front yard, driveway, or car parked in a public place), and either:

(3) Your level of intoxication made you unable to exercise care for your safety or for the safety of others (This is a difficult burden for the prosecutor to meet.), or

(4) Under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you obstructed, interfered with, or prevented others from using streets, sidewalks, or other public ways.

A few things to note:

  •  The officer does not need to give you a blood alcohol concentration test (blood test or breathalyzer) at time of arrest—in fact, they rarely do.
  •  Merely being drunk in public is not a crime, it’s only criminal when you become a safety risk to yourself or other and/or you interfere with other people’s right of movement in a public place.

Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing for Drunk in Public, PC 647(f):

PC 647(f) is a misdemeanor.  If you are convicted (by trial or plea), you face up to six months in a county jail, maximum of $1,000 fine, and informal probation. Penalties increase for convictions with priors.

Lesser offenses you may wish to plea to:

    • Informal diversion.  If you complete a drug/alcohol program and/or community service, the district attorney may be willing to ultimately dismiss the charges against you.
    • PC 374.3(a)—Public urination/Unlawful dumping of waste (if applicable)—an infraction (Punishable by fine only, no jail time—punishable by a fine up to $1000, but standard fine for first offense is $270).
    • PC 415–Public Disturbance.
        • If you plead to PC 415 as an infraction, then you face no jail time and no probation.
        • If you plead to PC 415 as a misdemeanor, then you face a maximum of 90 days in jail, a maximum $400 fine, and the conviction is not considered a prior in case of future arrests for drunk in public.
    • PC 370—Public Nuisance (a misdemeanor).
    • PC 602—Trespass, either an infraction or a misdemeanor.

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