California’s Disorderly Conduct: Under the Influence in Public (Public Intoxication) Penal Code Section 647(f)

Public intoxication in California is a misdemeanor. Nonetheless, it is taken very seriously and something that will stay on your record for the rest of your life. Therefore, it is highly recommended you retain an experienced and highly qualified criminal defense attorney who can fight on your behalf.

Definition of Public Intoxication

California’s public intoxication law is defined under Penal Code section 647(f). Under PC 647(f), the statute makes it illegal to be found in a public place while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, drug, controlled substance, and/or toluene to the extent that:

  • The intoxicated person is unable to exercise care for his/her safety or the safety of others; or
  • The intoxicated person interferes with, obstructs, or prevents the use of any public way.

What does it mean to violate PC 647(f) (Public Intoxication)?

An individual is guilty of violating this law if they:

  1. Were willfully under the influence of alcohol, drug, controlled substance, and/or toluene;
  2. Were under the influence in a public place; and
  3. Were unable to exercise care for his/her own safety or the safety of others; or
  4. Interfered with, obstructed, or prevented the use of a street, sidewalk, or other public way.

Definitions:

  • Willfully means the act was done intentionally or on purpose.
  • A public place is a place that’s open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there.
    • Note: the Court of Appeal has held that a defendant sitting in a parked car on a public street is a “public place.” (People v. Belanger (1966) 243 Cal.App.2d 654, 657.)

Examples:

  • John had one too many shots of vodka. After leaving the bar, John immediately passes out on the sidewalk in front of the bar forcing sidewalk users to either step over him or walk around him. John was arrested and charged with violating PC 647(f).
  • Perry was under the influence heroin, which made him feel angry, hostile, and anxious. Perry stormed out of his house and started screaming vulgarities in the middle of his suburban neighborhood. Perry was arrested and charged with violating PC 647(f).

Similar/Related Offenses

California’s Vehicle Code Section 23152 Driving Under the Influence

Under VC 23152, it is illegal for anyone to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drive a vehicle with .08 percent or more alcohol in his/her blood.

For more information, please see our article on DUI/DWI.

California’s Health and Safety Code Section 11550 Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance

Under HS 11550, it is illegal for a person to use or be under the influence of any controlled substance or Schedule III, IV, or V narcotic unless it’s lawfully prescribed.

For more information, please see our article on under the influence.

California’s Penal Code Section 415 Disturbing the Peace

Under PC 415, it is illegal to: (1) fight or challenge someone to fight in a public place; (2) maliciously and willfully disturb another person through loud/unreasonable noise; and/or (3) use offensive words in a public place, which is likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.

California’s Penal Code Section 303a Loitering to Solicit the Purchase of Alcohol

Under PC 303a, it is illegal to beg or solicit another patron, customer, or visitor in front of a place, which sells alcoholic beverages.

The Prosecution

For the prosecution to prove the defendant committed public intoxication under PC 647(f), they must first prove the elements of the crime took place. The prosecution must prove the following elements:

  1. Defendant was willfully under the influence of alcohol, drug, controlled substance, and/or toluene;
  2. Defendant was under the influence in a public place; and
  3. Defendant was unable to exercise care for his/her own safety or the safety of others; or
  4. Defendant interfered with, obstructed, or prevented the use of a street, sidewalk, or other public way.

Who Can Be Charged?

The following examples illustrate who can be charged with violating PC 647(f).

Cookie, a reality show star, was heavily day drinking for the cameras. After taking numerous tequila shots, Cookie thought it was a good idea to run along the boardwalk and go to the beach. Cookie, who was very intoxicated, was screaming down the boardwalk and yelling, “Where’s the beach?” It took several officers to take Cookie down before she could cause further havoc to fellow beachgoers. Cookie was arrested and charged with violating PC 647(f).

Reena, another reality show star, was heavily day drinking with Cookie as they are “partners-in-crime.” Instead of going through what Cookie went through, Reena plants herself in the middle of a ramp leading to the public beach. Reena is sobbing uncontrollably because of her friend’s behavior. Despite pleas from other beachgoers and officers to move, Reena does not budge. For beachgoers to access the beach, they had to hop the stone wall or sidestep Reena. Reena was arrested and charged with violating PC 647(f).

Legal Defenses

Facing charges for violating California’s PC 647(f), public intoxication, can be difficult to fight alone. An effective and aggressive criminal defense attorney will know the most common legal defenses to fight against these charges.

Did the defendant actually commit the elements of the crime?

It is important to understand if you did not commit the act willfully or in a public place, you are not guilty of public intoxication.

Example:

Sandra, who had a particularly hard day at work, decided to unwind at the local watering hole. Sandra ordered one glass of wine when all of a sudden, Sandra received an important work-related phone call. Sandra left her drink, unguarded, at the bar. After completing the call, Sandra went back to her barstool to consume her drink. Next thing Sandra knows, she wakes up in the back of a police cruiser. Officers inform Sandra they found her incoherent and screaming at random passersby while dancing in the middle of the street. Unbeknownst to Sandra, her drink was drugged while she was away.

Here, it would be a defense for Sandra because although she willfully consumed an alcoholic beverage, she did not willfully consume the drug in her drink. Thus, Sandra did not commit the act of being under the influence willfully.

Example 2:

Donny was staying at a hotel and took advantage of the mini bar in his hotel room. Donny, party of one, had too much to drink and started making a huge ruckus in his hotel room. Hotel security was summoned along with police officers after numerous complaints. Officers place Donny under arrest.

Here, Donny could refute the “public place” element as Donny’s hotel room would not be considered a “public place.”

Penalties

PC 647(f) is a misdemeanor in California. The punishment is as follows:

  • Informal (summary) probation;
  • Imprisonment in county jail for no longer than six months; and/or
  • Fine not more than one-thousand dollars ($1,000).

Under PC 647d, multiple violations of 647(f) could lead to increased punishment. If a person was previously convicted two or more times of violating PC 647(f), those convictions will be charged as enhancements and that person must be imprisoned in county jail for at minimum, ninety (90) days.

However, a court can exercise its discretion in not imposing jail time. Instead of jail time, a court may impose probation or suspend the sentence. Typically, that person will be ordered to spend sixty (60) days in an alcohol treatment and recovery program, which meets the guidelines for the Division of Alcohol Programs of the Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

Penalties for Similar/Related Offenses

California’s Vehicle Code Section 23152 Driving Under the Influence

First Offense (misdemeanor)

  • Imprisonment in county jail for up to six months;
  • $390-$1000 in fines;
  • Driver’s license suspended for six to ten months;
  • Three or nine months of DUI school.

Second Offense (misdemeanor)

  • Imprisonment in county jail ranging from 96 hours to one year;
  • $390-$1000 in fines;
  • Driver’s license suspended for two years;
  • Eighteen or thirty months of DUI school.

Third Offense (misdemeanor)

  • Imprisonment in county jail ranging from 120 days to one year;
  • $390-$1000 in fines;
  • Driver’s license suspended for three years;
  • Thirty months of DUI school.

Fourth Offense (felony)

  • Imprisonment in state prison for sixteen months or two or three years;
  • $390-$1000 in fines;
  • Driver’s license suspension for four years;
  • Eighteen or thirty months of DUI school.

DUI w/ Injury (misdemeanor)

  • Imprisonment in county jail for five days to one year;
  • $390-$1000 in fines;
  • Restitution fines payable to victims;
  • Driver’s license suspension for one to three years;
  • Three, eighteen, or thirty months of DUI school.

DUI w/ Injury (felony)

  • Imprisonment in state prison for sixteen months or two or three years;
  • $390-$1000 in fines;
  • Restitution fines payable to victims;
  • Driver’s license suspension for four years;
  • Eighteen or thirty months of DUI school.

For more information, please see our article on DUI/DWI.

California’s Health and Safety Code Section 11550 Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance

HS 11550 is a misdemeanor in California. The punishment is as follows:

  • Imprisonment in county jail for not more than one year; or
  • Probation (summary or informal) for a period not to exceed five years.

In lieu of part of or all imprisonment, the court may, in the interests of justice, allow a person to complete a licensed drug rehabilitation program.

For more information, please see our article on under the influence.

California’s Penal Code Section 415 Disturbing the Peace

PC 415 is a misdemeanor in California. The punishment is as follows:

  • Informal (summary) probation;
  • Imprisonment in county jail for no more than ninety (90) days; and/or
  • Fine not exceeding four hundred dollars ($400).

California’s Penal Code Section 303a Loitering to Solicit the Purchase of Alcohol

PC 303a is a misdemeanor in California. The punishment is as follows:

  • Informal (summary) probation;
  • Imprisonment in county jail for no longer than six months; and/or
  • Fine not more than one-thousand dollars ($1,000).

We Can Help

If you or someone you know is facing charges of violating California’s Penal Code section 647(f), public intoxication, it is highly recommended that you seek an experienced, knowledgeable, and reputable criminal defense lawyer. If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Orange County or Los Angeles, contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Yum can spot the legal issues and attack the weaknesses in the government’s case in order to strive in achieving the best possible outcome. Don’t hesitate to contact a lawyer who will aggressively fight for your rights and your future. Call 619-233-4433 for a free consultation or consult with our San Diego criminal defense attorney today.

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