top of page
  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

Public Intoxication Laws in California | California Penal Code Section 647(F)

Whenever someone is found under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance in public, California's Public Intoxication Laws {Penal Code 647(F)} are applicable.

This law usually applies in cases where the person who is accused of public intoxication:

  • Cannot exercise care for their own safety or the safety of others

  • Shows signs of disorderly conduct

  • Prevents the use of a public street or path

If the accused person also happens to be behind the wheel of a car, the California DUI law will apply.

In any case, Public Intoxication Laws in California are very serious and can lead to severe punishment for the offender.

As such, when facing the possibility of a public intoxication conviction, the accused must call a good defense attorney as soon as possible.

Goss Law has extensive experience dealing with public intoxication cases and is ready to fight for the rights of those accused of being drunk in public. An experienced DUI law firm in Sacramento can be reached at +1 916-999-7689 for a free consultation.

What Is Public Intoxication?

What Is Public Intoxication?

Under California's Penal Code 647(F), public intoxication can be defined as being under the influence of drugs or an alcoholic beverage in a public place.

To successfully convict a person of public intoxication, California Law requires the prosecutor to prove the following:

  • The accused was willfully intoxicated.

  • At the time of their arrest, the accused was in a public place.

  • There is evidence that the accused was unable to exercise care for themselves or others.

  • The accused obstructed, interfered with or prevented free use of a public street, sidewalk, or pathway.

The following acts are common examples of behavior that might lead to a public intoxication conviction in California:

  • Clarence chooses to go to a bar, gets drunk, and wanders into the street after the bar closes.

  • Tom gets violent and throws a bar stool after the bartender decides to cut him off for the night.

  • James passes out on the sidewalk after having too much to drink, making it difficult for others to use the road.

  • John sits on a train track and refuses to get up even though he is putting himself in danger.

Each of these scenarios contains acts of public intoxication that can lead to an arrest, being charged with a misdemeanor offense, serving time in county jail, and being stuck with a criminal record.

It is important to note that in some of the above cases, simply being in public while intoxicated can be enough for an arresting officer to charge the accused with public intoxication. In other words, even if the accused is not hit by a car or a train, the fact that they wandered onto the road or train tracks after becoming willfully drunk in public is enough for an arrest.

As such, in public intoxication cases, it is very important to understand the wording of Penal Code 647(F) because it could be the difference between being released or spending some time behind bars. This is why it is essential to call a criminal defense lawyer when facing a public intoxication charge. They can also help with questions like Is alcohol addiction a valid defense for DUI In California?

Penalties for Public Use of a Controlled Substance

As mentioned earlier, public intoxication is a misdemeanor under California Law. It, therefore, can carry the following penalties:

  • Up to six months in county jail.

  • A maximum fine of up to $1,000.

  • Probation period that can be as long as five years.

  • A criminal record.

However, these punishments are usually handed down only in serious cases of public intoxication. Instead of jail time or a fine, the judge can decide that the act is punishable in a variety of other ways.

Alternatives to County Jail

Experienced criminal defense lawyers can negotiate for lesser sentences for the accused based on the specifics of each public intoxication charge. The following alternatives to a lengthy jail time or fine are possible:

  • A plea bargain for a lesser sentence.

  • Sentences of time already served behind bars.

  • Lesser fines of between $250 and $500 for first-time offenders.

  • A diversion program such as seeking treatment or attending alcohol abuse classes.

  • Suspended jail time under the terms of probation.

  • Community service instead of jail time.

  • Agreeing to counselling and rehab in return for a lesser sentence.

Civil Protective Custody

Placing the accused under civil protective custody is another possible option that an arresting officer in California can choose.

Also known as "the drunk tank," civil protective custody allows police officers to hold a visibly intoxicated individual for up to 72 hours for observation and treatment.

While it may seem harsh to hold someone for so long, it is, in many cases, a better alternative because the accused cannot be charged with public intoxication after spending time in the drunk tank.

However, not all police stations or sheriff's departments have a drunk tank, so this is not always an option. Also, the arresting officers may decide to charge the accused if they believe they will be difficult to control.

How to Fight a Public Intoxication Charge

When charged with drinking in a public place, the accused can hire a lawyer to fight for their rights. The attorney can launch a defense and challenge the public intoxication charge in many different ways that may lead to a reduced sentence or the complete dismissal of the case.

The good news is that it is up to the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt, which gives a good defense attorney a lot of options when fighting public intoxication charges.

When charged with intoxication by a controlled substance in a public place, the following are four ways to fight the case:

Accused Was Not in a Public Place

Being drunk is not a crime on its own. It is when the accused is arrested while drunk in public that the problems begin. As such, it is important to ascertain whether the accused was indeed in a public place when the arrest occurred.

Under California Law and Penal Code 647(F), the phrase "in public" is very clearly defined. If the lawyers can prove that the accused was arrested on private property, for example, they cannot be convicted of public intoxication.

Violation of Civil Rights

The accused must be informed of their Miranda rights when charged with drinking in public.

In some cases, the arresting officer may decide that the accused is too intoxicated to understand their rights, in which case the officer has a limited excuse for not reading them out while performing the arrest.

However, as soon as the accused is sober enough to understand what is happening, the officer must inform them of their Miranda rights.

If this does not happen, the defendant's legal team can point out the violation of their client's civil rights, which can lead to the case being dismissed.

Involuntary Intoxication

To be found guilty under Penal Code 647(F), the accused has to be willfully under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In cases where the defendant got accidentally drunk in public, or was involuntarily intoxicated, public intoxication laws do not apply.

Cases such as this usually occur when the accused did not know that they were consuming intoxicating liquor, or were forced or tricked into taking the controlled substance.

When this happens, the accused cannot be held responsible for his or her own safety, or the safety of others.

Insufficient Evidence

The prosecutor must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the accused was intoxicated in public and was a safety risk to themselves and others.

It is also a requirement that the defendant have at least one controlled substance in their system to qualify as being intoxicated.

In other words, a person cannot be convicted if they were arrested for exhibiting intoxicated behavior without any other supporting evidence.

What Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?

What Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?

Considering the serious nature of public intoxication charges, the defendant must have a good lawyer on their side when they go to court.

There are many ways that an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist, such as:

  • Explain California's public intoxication laws to the defendant.

  • Look at the evidence that the prosecutors have.

  • Challenge the validity and legality of the public intoxication allegations.

  • Investigate potential rights violations.

  • Gather evidence and witness statements in support of the accused.

  • Fight for their client in court.

  • Enter plea bargains to get a reduced sentence or community service.

  • Help their client avoid a criminal record.

Accused of Being Drunk in Public? Goss Law Can Help

In Sacramento, California, Goss Law is one of the most trusted law firms when it comes to fighting for the rights of its clients in court.

When facing serious public intoxication charges, the accused will require all the help they can get to avoid jail time or a serious fine.

Goss Law has a panel of highly experienced attorneys who can provide the attention and legal help that defendants in this situation require.

Rather than risk being stuck with a criminal record for being drunk in public, defendants can simply visit the law firm's Sacramento offices and sit down for a free consultation.


bottom of page