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Public Intoxication Law

Penal Code 647(f)

California Penal Code 647f PC defines and penalizes public intoxication. More specifically, it is a crime to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, in a public place, to the point of being unable to care for your safety or that of others. Violation of this penal code is a misdemeanor.

This statute states that:

“A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if] found in any public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, controlled substance, or toluene, in a condition that he or she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of his or her being under the influence of alcohol, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, or toluene, interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way.”

However, all hope is not lost in the event that you are being arrested on account of this offense. Legal defenses are available for people charged with public intoxication. These defenses may be that the intoxication was not in a public place; your intoxication was involuntary, and/or you were not creating an interference or obstruction.

Being a misdemeanor, the crime of public intoxication is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.

There are instances when the judge may impose summary probation upon the defendant in lieu of imprisonment stated above.

However, it should be noted that individuals convicted of this offense may be met with adverse consequences such as negative immigration consequences (if applicable).

After completion of probation or jail time, whichever is applicable, a person convicted of this offense may seek to have this offense expunged. Thus, you may need an experienced attorney to discuss this matter thoroughly.

Let’s take a closer look at the offense.

When is the crime of Public Intoxication committed?

As per Penal Code 647(f), the prosecution must prove the following elements in order to secure a conviction:

  1. the defendant was willfully under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or under the influence of drugs or a controlled substance,
  2. when the defendant was under the influence, he was in a public place, and either
  3. the defendant was unable to exercise care for his own safety, or the safety of others, OR because the defendant was under the influence, he interfered with, obstructed, or prevented the free use of a street, sidewalk, or another public way.[1]

The statute is basically geared towards protecting the offender from his own foolishness as well as the public from the potential dangers associated with an intoxicated person.[2]

In determining the guilt of the defendant, the judge or the jury will look into the circumstance of each case and raise the question of whether the defendant was “unable to exercise care for his own safety, or the safety of others.”

This inquiry almost always leads to scrutinizing the legal meaning of “willful” intoxication, and “public place.”

Legal Definitions


According to CALCRIM No. 2966 on Disorderly Conduct, someone commits an act “willfully,” as contemplated within the context of Penal Code 647f when he does it willingly or on purpose.

This means that a defendant must have voluntarily taken drugs and/or alcohol. As such, in cases when he ingested drugs or alcohol on accident, or by force, then he could not be adjudged as guilty under this penal code.

Drunk in “public”

As used under this statute, a public place” is a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there, such as restaurants, clubs, shopping malls, and parks, and the like.

Legal defenses to Penal Code 647f

Being charged with the violation of Penal Code 647f may be challenged with the help of an experienced attorney. If carried out properly, legal defenses in California may lead to a reduction or even to a dismissal of charges.

Defenses to be raised will vary on a case-to-case basis. However, some of the most common defenses are it was not in a public place; your intoxication was involuntary, and/or you were not creating an interference or obstruction.

1. Not in a public place

As discussed above, one of the essential elements that must be proven in relation to this offense is that the offender should be drunk in public. Further, “in public” has a very specific definition under this law and has been interpreted by the courts in certain ways. The absence of this element is fatal to the prosecution of this case. This means it is a valid defense to PC 647f charges for a defendant to say that, while intoxicated, he was not in a place open to strangers.

2. Involuntarily intoxication

Note that being intoxicated under this case must be made “willfully” in order to be found guilty under this statute. Thus, if a defendant has become intoxicated involuntarily i.e. he got drunk by accidentally ingesting a drug or alcohol, or did so through involuntary means, then there is a great chance that he can be exonerated from charges under PC 647(f).

Therefore, this defense is available in instances when the defendant is involuntarily intoxicated consuming alcohol, drugs, or some other intoxicating substance without knowing he was doing so, or that somebody forced or tricked him into consuming an intoxicating substance.

3. There was no interference or obstruction

A party may be convicted under this code section if, while drunk, he interfered with or was obstructing the free use of a public street, or sidewalk. A defense, therefore, is for an accused to show that, although intoxicated, he did not interfere with a public way. Perhaps, for example, if he was drunk behind a dumpster in an alleyway, then police officers arguably have no grounds to make an arrest.

Penalties for conviction under 647f PC

A violation of 647f PC is charged as a misdemeanor under California state law.

The crime is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to six months and/or a maximum fine of $1,000; or in cases when the judge deems fit, summary probation and/or community service may be awarded in lieu of jail time.

A PC 647(f) conviction may result inadverse immigration consequences, which can lead to a non-citizen being deported or render an immigrant “inadmissible.” Thus, if a defendant violated this statute because he was intoxicated via drug use or by using a controlled substance, then this can be a reason for deportation or inadmissibility.

Expungement after a Penal Code 647f conviction

With the assistance of an experienced attorney, a person convicted under this section can have his 647f conviction expunged from his/her criminal record.

Expungement under Penal Code 1203.4 has proven to be beneficial such that it releases an individual from virtually “all penalties and disabilities” arising out of the conviction; one of its benefits is that conviction need not be disclosed to potential employers.

Expungement under Penal Code 1203.4 may be granted under the following conditions:

  1. Offender has successfully completed probation, and
  2. Offender is not currently:
  1. charged with a criminal offense,
  2. on probation for a criminal offense, or
  3. serving a sentence for a criminal offense.[3]

Gun rights of persons convicted of violation of Penal Code 647f

Gun rights are not affected by a conviction for public intoxication

While in general, some felony and misdemeanor convictions will result in the defendant losing his or her right to own a gun in California - some of which may carry a 10-year firearm ban - conviction of violating PC 647(f) is not one of those. Thus, it will not result in a person losing ownership of his gun or being banned from the gun for a period of time.

Related Crimes – Public Intoxication

Crimes similar to Penal Code 647f are:

  1. driving under the influence – VC 23152a,
  2. disturbing the peace – PC 415, and
  3. loitering to solicit the purchase of alcohol – PC 303a.

1. Driving under the influence – VC 23152a

Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is punishable under Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC.[4]

As per California Vehicle Code 23152 VC the term “Under the influence” means that a driver’s physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that he can no longer drive as well as a cautious sober person.[5]

In California, the prosecution of a motorist under this statute can still be had, even if their blood alcohol concentration was below 0.08%.

VC 23152a is charged as misdemeanors in first, second or third commission of this offense. Penalties for a DUI conviction may include misdemeanor probation, fines, DUI school, and a driver’s license suspension (though it may be possible to continue driving if the defendant installs an ignition interlock device (IID) in his car).

2. Disturbing the peace – PC 415

Penal Code 415 PC penalizes persons who “disturb the peace.” By legal definition, “disturb the peace” means to either fight, or challenge someone to a fight in a non-private place, purposefully disturb another person with loud and unreasonable noise, and/ or use offensive words that are likely to provoke a violent reaction.

A violation of Penal Code 415 is charged as a misdemeanor and is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to 90 ninety days, and/or a maximum fine of up to $400.[6]

3. Loitering to solicit the purchase of alcohol – PC 303a

Penal Code 303a PC penalizes a person who loiters in or around a bar or restaurant for the purpose of asking other patrons or customers to buy drinks for him.[7]

“Loitering” is defined as a person remaining in a certain place even though he has no lawful reason to be there.

A violation of PC 303a is charged as a misdemeanor in California and may be punishable by up to six months in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000.[8]

If you have been arrested for public intoxication, speak with our criminal defense lawyers as soon as possible. Request your free consultation by calling us at (626) 827-7222.

[1] CALCRIM No. 2966. Disorderly Conduct

[2] People v. Belanger (1966) 243 Cal. App. 2d 654.

[3] California Penal Code section 1203.4.

[4] California Vehicle Code 23152a VC.

[5] California Vehicle Code 23152 VC

[6] xCalifornia Penal Code 415

[7] California Penal Code 303a PC

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