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Public Intoxication in California

by Lindsay Chambers

Under California law, being publicly intoxicated is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. As part of the state’s disorderly conduct law, California Penal Code 647(f) broadly defines public intoxication as a state of being under the influence of drugs, alcohol or a combination of controlled substances to the point that someone can no longer look after themselves or others, or obstructs the use of a public passageway.

What Is Public Intoxication?

In many circumstances, being drunk or high in public is not illegal. The police might not bother to intervene if you aren’t making a scene, are not responsible for taking care of anyone else and it looks like you will probably get home safely. 

From a legal perspective, public intoxication becomes an issue if you are impaired enough to cause a disturbance or pose a threat to yourself or those around you. For example, someone who starts a bar fight or passes out in the middle of the sidewalk could be guilty of public intoxication. 

California Penal Code 647(g) states that police officers can use their discretion to place publicly intoxicated people in civil protective custody for up to 72 hours for “treatment and evaluation.” In this case, you are not subject to any criminal prosecution unless you are on illegal drugs, commit any other misdemeanor or felony while under the influence or try to escape from custody.

What Constitutes a Public Place?

Under this statute, a public place is any location that is open to anyone wishing to go there, such as a restaurant, park, shopping center or entertainment venue. California courts have also defined the following as public places for the purposes of this law.

  • A car parked on a public street
  • A shared hallway in an apartment building
  • An area in front of someone’s home, including the driveway, lawn or porch

Legally Defending a Public Intoxication Charge

While a misdemeanor for being drunk or high in public may seem like a mere slap on the wrist, do not overlook the ripple effects it can have on your life. For instance, anyone conducting a background check might think twice about hiring you or accepting you into an educational program if they assume you are irresponsible or have behavioral problems. If you are not a U.S. citizen, violating PC 647(f) could even jeopardize your immigration status. 

If you are facing disorderly conduct charges under California Penal Code 647(f), a reputable criminal defense attorney can help you clear your record. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, it is often possible to get a California public intoxication charge reduced or even dismissed. In defending some DUI convictions, your attorney may argue for a public intoxication charge instead because the associated penalties are less harsh. 

Orange County’s Leading Criminal Defense Attorney

Having experienced representation is essential if you find yourself facing the consequences of a public intoxication charge. At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we provide the highest possible level of commitment and respect to our clients, getting results even with the most challenging cases. When your reputation and freedom are at stake, you need to call someone you can trust to be by your side in a court of law. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. 

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