Getting charged with being drunk in public is more complex than defendants typically understand, and many prosecutors struggle to make these charges stick. As leading criminal defense lawyers in CA, the attorneys at The Law Office of Cherish Om have helped numerous clients beat their charges. Contact us online to start preparing your legal defense today.
You would think that something as commonplace as being drunk in public wouldn’t be a crime, and in a sense, you would be correct. Simply being drunk in public is not a crime; however, when combined with other variables, public intoxication can land you in a world of trouble. You may even be sentenced to jail time, fined, and left with negative consequences for years to come.
But what exactly makes a fun night out on the town turn into a legal nightmare, and—perhaps more importantly—what can you do to fight a public drunkenness charge? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more in the sections below.
Have you been served with a Penal Code PC 647 violation in California? The compassionate and knowledgeable attorneys at The Law Office of Cherish Om may be able to help clear your name. Contact us online to explore your legal options today.
Defining Public Intoxication in California Penal Code 647 f PC
Penal Code PC 647(f) is a small part in a series of miscellaneous crimes including prostitution, public lewdness, loitering, begging, and sleeping in public places or on public streets. Section (f) specifically deals with some types of public intoxication. More specifically, the statute defines a person as guilty of a misdemeanor offense if they are found:
“…in any public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, controlled substance, or toluene, in a condition that they are unable to exercise care for their own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of being under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, or toluene, interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way.”
While the statute gives the reader a general idea of what the court considers “public drunkenness,” there is still a lot of room for interpretation. Let’s take a look at some of the defining factors of this charge.
What Does It Mean to Be “Willfully Under the Influence”?
In order to be guilty of Penal Code 647(f), the court needs to prove that you were “willfully under the influence.” Simply put, this means that you decided to be in public while intoxicated. If nobody forced you to drink alcohol and you didn’t accidentally drink alcohol, then this means that you were willfully under the influence.
How Does California Law Define “Public Place”?
California’s definition of a “public place” is pretty vague. In most cases, the law defines a public place as a place where the general public is allowed to go including:
- Streets, bridges, and sidewalks
- In some cases, someone’s front yard, porch, or driveway
This means that if you are in any of these places and you are so drunk that you are affecting someone’s ability to move freely, or that you’re putting their (or your) safety at risk, you are in violation of Penal Code 647(f).
What Does “Unable to Exercise Care” Mean?
One of the key components of a drunk in public charge is a person’s “inability to “exercise care for the safety of themselves or others” because of their intoxication. In some situations, this component may be more present, such as:
- A person getting drunk and assaulting another person
- A person driving under the influence of alcohol and crashing their car
- A drunk person starting a fire by smoking a cigarette and flicking their lit butt into a trashcan
- A drunk person showing signs of alcohol poisoning or overdose
In other situations, however, the effect of a person’s intoxication on their safety and well-being as well as the safety and well-being of other people may be more subtle.
Let’s say you had a few drinks at a bar in town. After feeling the effects of the alcohol, you decided to walk home. On your walk, you encountered icy pavement, losing your footing, falling, and sustaining significant injuries. Was the fall due to the alcohol or due to the slick pavement? Would your injuries have been less significant had you decided not to drink that night? If you are charged with violating Penal Code 647(f), the prosecution will be required to prove that your drunkenness is the reason why you were causing a danger to yourself or the public.
What Does It Mean to “Interfere with the Public”?
Interfering with the public in this specific instance refers to the obstruction of a public area such as a street or sidewalk, thus preventing the free passage of other people. If you’re lying in the middle of the street preventing cars from being able to get to their destinations, or you’re walking in a way that stops people from passing you on the sidewalk, you are clearly causing an interference with the public’s ability to move freely.
The nuances of Penal Code 647(f) can prove to be a difficult thing to process, especially without a background in litigation. If you have questions concerning what does and doesn’t constitute being drunk in public, contact us today for a consultation. The Law Office of Cherish Om can provide you with a clear understanding of this complicated statute.
Fighting a Public Intoxication Charge in CA
As we’ve discovered multiple times, being drunk in public isn’t a crime. Being drunk in combination with other acts, however, may be considered a violation of Penal Code 647(f) if the State can prove that your intoxication affected the public’s safety or ability to travel freely. This task alone will be difficult to do, but it becomes more complicated when police involvement comes into play.
The process of arresting someone for public drunkenness holds a specific set of guidelines that an arresting officer must follow to the letter. If the court fails to prove all of the elements of public intoxication were present in the incident, or the arresting officer fails to follow necessary protocols, your charges may be thrown out by a judge. In this section, we’ll go over a few common defenses that our law office may be able to use when defending your case.
You Were Not in a Public Place
Simply put, if you were on your own property or the property of a friend or family member, there are no legal limits on how drunk you are allowed to get, as long as you aren’t violating any other laws. However, it’s important to note that some situations might still be considered “public intoxication” if they take place in the public view.
According to several California statutes, your front lawn, your driveway, and any other places where people are allowed to travel without permission are often considered “public places” even though the space technically belongs to you.
For example, if a police officer responds to a noise complaint and finds you intoxicated and lying in your driveway, you may be charged with public intoxication because you are in an area where the public is allowed access. However, if the police respond to a noise complaint and arrest you for public intoxication by entering your home without your permission or a warrant, you likely have grounds for defense, and likely a suit against the arresting officer.
You Were Not Voluntarily Intoxicated
While rare, there may be some situations where you may be involuntarily intoxicated. In those situations, it’s unlawful to be arrested for public intoxication. Some examples include:
- A bartender serving drinks to patrons that are much more potent than the general public may be expecting
- A person unknowingly drinking alcoholic beer when they thought they were drinking non-alcoholic beer
- A person unknowingly consuming a substance that would make the alcohol consumed more potent
- Someone being forced to drink alcohol because of a prank or hazing tactic
If your lawyer can prove that one of these, or similar events took place prior to the incident, you may be able to get your charges dropped because you never intended to become drunk in public.
You Were Minding Your Own Business
As we outlined earlier in the article, the act of being drunk in public isn’t a crime in and of itself. If you decide to have a few drinks and go into town, you are perfectly within your legal rights to do so as long as you don’t obstruct any walkways or streets and you don’t infringe on the safety of yourself and others. If you were simply drunk in public and minding your own business, there should be no legal grounds for your arrest regarding Penal Code 647(f).
Your Rights Were Violated
While you may have violated Penal Code 647(f), that doesn’t mean that your 4th amendment rights are suddenly dissolved; your arresting officer is still legally required to go through the typical process of arresting you. This includes, but isn’t limited to:
- Refraining from unnecessary force
- Identifying themselves when asked to, including the specification of their names and badge numbers
- Informing you of your right to remain silent and your right to attorney
- Informing you of a specific law broken
- Receiving your consent to be breathalyzed or searched
Furthermore, your arresting officer with need to follow additional procedures outlined in Penal Code 647. Section (g) specifically protects you from unnecessary force and being held for longer than a 72-hour period unless you’re found with additional illegal substances on your person or in your system, or the officer has reason to believe that you have committed a felony.
There Is Insufficient Evidence of Intoxication
If the arresting officer has no reason to suspect that you’re drunk, or fails to secure evidence of your intoxication, there’s no valid reason that you can be arrested for public intoxication. If you aren’t acting in a way that would indicate intoxication, or if you decline a breath analysis, there may not be sufficient evidence for your arrest.
Possible Penalties for Being Drunk in Public
Penal Code 647(f) is a misdemeanor charge and thus, a violation can result in a maximum $1,000 fine and/or six months in county jail. However, depending on the circumstances of the incident, the court may sentence you to community service or probation. The difference between a severe and less severe sentence almost always falls on the details of the crime and the effectiveness of your criminal defense attorney.
Public Drunkenness FAQs
The laws surrounding public intoxication are complex. If you have questions about the nature of your charges, an experienced California public intoxication attorney help. In the meantime, read through the answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.
• Are there immigration consequences if I am drunk in public?
Because immigrants are typically only deported for felonious or violent behavior, public intoxication itself is generally not considered a deportable offense under federal immigration laws. Typically classified as a misdemeanor, a standalone charge of public intoxication probably won’t trigger direct immigration consequences.
However, it’s crucial to note that if your behavior while intoxicated leads to other criminal charges, such as disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct, or if you have a history of criminal activity, it could potentially lead to deportation. A cumulative pattern of criminal conduct may also impact your immigration status.
• Can I get an expungement after a Penal Code 647f conviction?
In California, individuals with a Penal Code 647(f) conviction may be eligible for expungement, which is essentially the dismissal of the conviction from their criminal record. The eligibility criteria for expungement include the completion of probation, fulfillment of all sentencing requirements, and demonstrating good conduct. However, the expungement process and criteria can be complex and vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Our law firm can provide you with a detailed understanding of your eligibility and guidance on navigating the expungement process.
• Does a drunk in public conviction affect my gun rights?
Typically, misdemeanor charges don’t affect your rights as a gun owner in California unless they involve violence. Unless your public intoxication charge was combined with a violent offense or a felony, you’ll still have the right to own or purchase a gun.
• How serious is a public intoxication charge in California?
While public intoxication isn’t a felony, it can still result in devastating consequences. If convicted, your public intoxication charge with show up on background checks when applying to jobs or apartments, and even if it’s expunged, the courts will still have the ability to access it and other charges should you find yourself in trouble with the law in the future.
• Why was being drunk in public made a crime?
Laws against public intoxication, including Penal Code 647(f) in California, are enacted to maintain public order and safety. The presence of intoxicated individuals in public spaces can pose a risk to themselves and others, leading to disturbances or even more serious criminal activity. These laws provide law enforcement with a tool to address such situations promptly, promoting public safety and discouraging behaviors that may escalate into more significant problems. The primary goal is to strike a balance between individual freedoms and the collective well-being of the community.
The Law Office of Cherish Om: Public Intoxication Defense Attorneys in California
While the intentions behind Penal Code 647(f) are valid, they don’t always apply to every situation. If you find yourself charged with public intoxication or another subsection of Penal Code 647, the best thing you can do for your future is hire an attorney. The Law Office of Cherish Om not only has the experience to handle such a case, but we also have the resources and tenacity to make sure you get the outcome you deserve. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation and explore the best defense strategy for your case.