Penal Code 647(f) PC | Drunk in Public

Penal Code 647(f) PC | Drunk in Public

Getting arrested for being drunk in public can be an embarrassing and frustrating experience. Many people don’t fully understand California’s drunk in public law or how it is enforced. This article will explain Penal Code 647(f) PC, including what it means to be drunk in public, penalties, and possible defenses. We’ll also look at real examples and discuss how to avoid getting charged.

What is California’s Law on Being Drunk in Public?

California Penal Code 647(f) PC makes it a misdemeanor to be drunk or under the influence of drugs in public. This means it is illegal to:

  • Be drunk, intoxicated from alcohol or drugs, or unable to care for your own safety or others due to alcohol or drugs, AND
  • Be in a public place like a street, park, or parking lot

You don’t actually have to be causing a disturbance or drawing attention to yourself. The main issue is being under the influence in public, where you could potentially be a danger to yourself or others.

For example, if your drunk and stumbling down the sidewalk, a police officer can arrest you for being drunk in public under 647(f) PC. Or if your passed out on a park bench because your too drunk, that could also violate this law.

What Does it Mean to be Drunk in Public?

To be charged with this offense, you need to be more than just buzzed or tipsy. Legally “drunk in public” means either:

  • You are unable to exercise care for your own safety or the safety of others
  • You interfere with, obstruct, or prevent others from using streets, sidewalks, or other public way

Some common signs that could lead to a drunk in public charge include:

  • Stumbling, inability to walk straight
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Smell of alcohol on breath
  • Vomiting
  • Passing out on sidewalk or other public area
  • Urinating in public
  • Being too intoxicated to drive

Police can use field sobriety tests, breathalyzers, or blood alcohol tests to determine if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over .08%, the legal limit for driving. But even if your BAC is under .08%, an officer can still arrest you for being drunk in public if you show outward signs of intoxication. The prosecutor doesn’t need a specific BAC level to prove you were drunk.

Penalties for Drunk in Public Conviction

Being drunk in public is a misdemeanor offense in California. Potential penalties include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Informal probation
  • Community service
  • Mandatory alcohol education classes

Jail time is rare for first-time offenders who weren’t causing any disturbances. More likely, you’ll end up with a fine, probation, and required alcohol counseling or education.

However, a drunk in public conviction will show up on your criminal record. This can negatively impact your job prospects, school applications, professional licensing, and more.

Recent Examples of Drunk in Public Charges

Here are some real-life examples of people charged with being drunk in public in California:

  • A man was arrested for being drunk in public after police found him urinating on a wall at a public park. He was unsteady on his feet and had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and smelled of alcohol.
  • A woman was charged with being drunk in public after witnesses reported she was laying on the sidewalk, unable to stand up. Police found her to be heavily intoxicated with vomit on her shirt.
  • A man was arrested for being drunk in public after stumbling into traffic. Police found him with bloodshot, watery eyes, slurred speech, and he failed field sobriety tests. He was taken into custody for his own safety.

As you can see, police take public intoxication seriously as it poses a safety risk. Even if your not causing a problem, just being drunk in public is enough to get arrested.

When Can I be Charged with Drunk in Public?

You don’t have to be causing a disturbance to be arrested for public intoxication. But some common scenarios that often lead to 647(f) charges include:

  • Stumbling down the sidewalk – If your so drunk you can barely walk, police may detain you for your own safety.
  • Passed out in public – Being unconscious on a sidewalk, park bench, or other public area due to intoxication.
  • Causing a disturbance – Yelling, fighting, arguing, or otherwise being disruptive while drunk.
  • Urinating in public – Relieving yourself in an alley, behind a dumpster, or other public area.
  • Can’t take care of yourself – Inability to function, communicate, or look after yourself due to being severely impaired.

Police have broad discretion when enforcing drunk in public laws. The key issues are protecting public safety and preventing disturbances. Even if you don’t intend to drive, just being very drunk in public can get you arrested.

When is it Not a Crime to be Drunk in Public?

There are certain times when it is not illegal to be publicly intoxicated in California. Some examples include:

  • You are briefly passing through a public area while drunk, such as walking from a bar to your apartment.
  • You are drunk on private property like a house party or inside a bar/restaurant.
  • You are intoxicated at a permitted public event like a festival, concert, or sporting event.
  • You are on a wine tasting tour and have been sampling alcohol.

The law prohibits being drunk in a public place, so being impaired on private property or at a permitted event is not a crime. However, you could still be arrested if police believe you are endangering yourself or others. The line between legal and illegal intoxication isn’t always clear.

Can I be Arrested for Public Intoxication in a Vehicle?

Yes, you can be charged with drunk in public even if you are sitting in a non-moving vehicle like a parked car. Although being drunk inside a private vehicle may seem like a “private” space, legally it is still considered a public place.

Police often charge intoxicated people who are “sleeping it off” in a parked car with public drunkenness under 647(f) PC. Even if you have no intent to drive, just operating a vehicle while intoxicated is illegal. Sleeping in your car does not prevent a drunk in public arrest.

What If I’m Walking Home From a Bar?

A common scenario is getting charged with public intoxication while walking home after drinking at a bar. Under California law, briefly walking through public while drunk is not necessarily a crime.

However, if police believe you are so drunk that you can’t care for your own safety, they can legally detain you. Factors like stumbling, vomiting, passing out, or needing assistance would give them reason to take you into custody or issue a citation.

Although walking home from the bar is often seen as the “safe” choice, you could still face public intoxication charges if officers think you are too impaired. Use good judgment about your level of drunkenness before heading out on foot at night.

Can I be Arrested on Private Property?

While public drunkenness laws only apply to people who are intoxicated in public places, you could still be arrested for being drunk on private property in certain cases.

Police may charge you with drunk in public if they find you intoxicated in areas like:

  • A shared hallway or lobby in an apartment building
  • A front porch or yard visible from the street
  • Common areas at a private club or gated community

These quasi-public spaces don’t have full privacy protections. So while being drunk in your own home is not illegal, impaired activity in semi-public areas within private property may justify a public intoxication arrest.

Can I Be Charged with Drunk in Public if I’m Not Disturbing Anyone?

You don’t have to actually be causing a problem or disturbing others to be arrested for public intoxication in California. The law prohibits being drunk in public regardless of your behavior.

For example, you could be quietly sleeping on a park bench but still be detained if police determine you are too impaired to care for yourself. Or you could be stumbling down a sidewalk with no one else around and still face charges.

Causing a disturbance certainly increases your chances of arrest. But a drunk in public charge is possible even if you are minding your own business. Any obvious signs of intoxication in public could lead police to take you into custody.

Can I Be Arrested on Private Property Like a House Party?

No, you generally can’t be arrested for being drunk at a private residence like a house party or in someone’s home. The drunk in public law only applies to areas accessible to the general public.

However, police could charge you with public intoxication if you leave the private property and are then found impaired in a public area. Drunk people are often arrested for public intoxication right after leaving a house party and walking down the sidewalk or sitting in their car.

So while it’s not illegal to be drunk on private property, you could still face charges if you then go out into a public space while intoxicated. Have someone drive you home after drinking at a private residence.

What Defenses Work Against Drunk in Public Charges?

Some potential legal defenses to fight California drunk in public charges include:

  • You weren’t in a public place – Argue you were on private property or at a permitted public event where intoxication was allowed.
  • No signs of impairment – You can fight the charges by showing there was no evidence you were actually drunk, like from field sobriety or breathalyzer tests.
  • Medical condition – A medical problem like diabetes or neurological disorder could have caused the appearance of intoxication.
  • Involuntary intoxication – You unknowingly ingested alcohol or drugs without your consent.

An experienced DUI defense lawyer can also scrutinize the arrest and test procedures for any mistakes by police. They can challenge the validity of field sobriety or chemical tests. And they may be able to get evidence thrown out if your rights were violated.

With an involuntary intoxication defense, a lawyer would need to present evidence that you unknowingly ingested intoxicants. This could be through witness testimony, receipts showing your drinks were spiked, or expert analysis proving the intoxicating effects of medication you took. It is a difficult defense to prove.

Other common DUI defenses include challenging the legality of the traffic stop, improper administration of chemical testing, and medical conditions that mimic intoxication. A skilled DUI attorney will evaluate all possible defenses and build the strongest case to fight the charges.

Facing drunk in public charges can be stressful. But a good lawyer can help protect your rights, seek reduction or dismissal of charges, and avoid harsh penalties. If accused of violating California’s public intoxication law, it is critical to consult with an attorney right away.