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What Counts as Public Intoxication?

Posted in Criminal Defense on May 28, 2019

Most states have laws that prohibit public drunkenness and related disorderly behavior. California’s public intoxication law does not prohibit being drunk in public. Instead, it makes it illegal to be so intoxicated as to pose a threat to others or to interfere with others’ use of streets and public places. A conviction for public intoxication can lead to fines and jail time.

California Public Intoxication Law (PC 647)

California Penal Code Section 647 covers public intoxication law, as well as others related to disorderly conduct. The law states that anyone who solicits another person to engage in lewd conduct in a public place is guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The same is true of a person who agrees to perform acts of prostitution. It is also against this law to accost another person in a public place or loiter in a public toilet for the purpose of committing an unlawful act.

Section (f) of the law directly relates to the crime of public intoxication in California. It defines public intoxication as being in any public place under the influence of liquor, drug, or controlled substance, if that person commits one of two infractions. The first is being in a condition that makes it impossible to exercise care for the individual’s safety or that of others. The second is interfering, obstructing, or preventing the free use of public streets, sidewalks, or other ways. It is not against the law simply to be intoxicated in public. It is, however, illegal if your intoxication leads to one of California’s prohibited actions.

Penalties for Public Intoxication

It is the responsibility of a peace officer to place a person who has violated the public intoxication law into civil protective custody, if reasonably possible. Protective custody refers to a mental health service, as defined in Section 5113 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. The service must provide 72-hour treatment and evaluation of the intoxicated individual.

California law gives the peace officer the right to mandate this custody with the same degree of force that would be lawful had the officer made an arrest for a misdemeanor crime without a warrant. The placement of a person into protective custody for public intoxication cannot serve as a reason to charge the individual later, unless that person is under the influence of a drug, has probable cause to have committed a misdemeanor, or who an officer believes will attempt to escape medical control.

A public intoxication conviction in California can result in up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. It is possible for a judge to order probation rather than jail time, in which the defendant may have to complete community service hours or labor, house arrest, or an education course. Even if the judge orders probation, however, the conviction will become part of the defendant’s permanent criminal record.

Defenses to Public Intoxication

A variety of legal defenses may be appropriate for fighting a public intoxication charge in California. A skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to prove that you were not in a public place at the time of the alleged crime, that the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to prove your guilt, or that the police in charge of your case committed a mistake or crime that deems the evidence inadmissible.

Contact Us Today

Contacting an Riverside criminal attorney to discuss your case after receiving a public intoxication charge can help you understand your rights and options. A lawyer from the Law Offices of Graham Donath, APC can review your situation and create a customized defense strategy on your behalf. Your attorney may be able to reduce your charges or lessen the penalties you face. Contact us today for a free consultation in Southern California.