Under California law, it is a crime to appear intoxicated in public in certain situations. Public intoxication is considered disorderly conduct, and treated as a misdemeanor offense; however, a conviction can still result in a fine and possible jail time. In some cases, if a person is under the influence of drugs, or if they are combative with police, public intoxication may lead to additional criminal charges.
Public Intoxication in California
Under California Penal Code 647(f), public intoxication involves a defendant who:
- Displays intoxication to alcohol, drugs, or a controlled substance;
- Is unable to take care of themselves or others; and
- Interferes with the free use of streets, sidewalks or public way.
This violation is also known as being “drunk in public.” However, simply being drunk in public is not enough to constitute a criminal offense. The prosecution must prove all elements of public intoxication in order for someone to be convicted.
What drugs or substances are included?
Beer, wine, and any other liquor are considered intoxicating substances under the law. Additionally, any drug, including marijuana, heroin, or prescription medications that have an intoxicating influence are also included. The law also specifies toluene as an included intoxicant, which can be used as an inhalant drug found in paint thinner, gasoline, shoe polish, and glue.
Where do the police take you after an arrest for public intoxication?
In most cases, the police will not take you to jail after being taken into custody for public intoxication. Where it is reasonable to do so, the officer may place the person in protective custody. They may then be taken to a facility for treatment and evaluation. However, in some cases, the police may place the person in police custody if they are arrested for public intoxication.
Police Custody After Public Intoxication
When the police think a person is under the influence of drugs instead of alcohol, or any combination of drugs and alcohol, they may take the person into police custody. Similarly, when the police believe a person has committed a crime, or if they think the individual will try and escape, they may be taken into police custody.
What is considered a public place?
A public place generally refers to any place that is open to the public. That could be a public street, the sidewalk, public parks, or places where the public often gathers, like a sporting event, mall or shopping center. If you are on private property, such as having a backyard party, even if other see or hear you acting intoxicated, that is generally not considered a public place.
You do not necessarily be drunk or intoxicated to be charged with public intoxication. The police may arrest a person for public intoxication just for the appearance of being drunk or on drugs. This creates a potential defense to criminal charges where someone is charged just for yelling or being boisterous. Some people may get excited after celebrating a sports victory and express that excitement on the street. The police may suspect the individual is intoxicated even if they have not consumed any drugs or alcohol.
Penalties for Public Intoxication
Under California law, if you are convicted for public intoxication, you may face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail or probation. However, if you are convicted for a second time or on subsequent public intoxication charges, the penalties may be increased.
Public Intoxication on College Campus
There are a number of colleges and universities in the East Bay, with an estimated 50,000 students attending nearby institutions. Many of these students find themselves experimenting with alcohol for the first time during their college years. As a result, young people may not know their limits or tolerance when it comes to alcohol consumption. Additionally, popular college sporting events bring a number of students who have been drinking and partying into public places, which can lead directly to a charge of public intoxication.
Individual colleges and universities may also have additional penalties or reporting requirements when a student is charged with public intoxication either on or off of campus. This can include suspension, athletic probation, loss of scholarship money, or getting kicked out of school.
Public Intoxication Defenses
There are a number of viable defenses to a charge of public intoxication. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will investigate your case and advise you of all your options and potential defenses. These defenses will depend on the facts of the case but could include:
- The defendant was not acting drunk in public;
- The defendant was not in a public place;
- The defendant was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol;
- The defendant was able to take care of themselves; or
- The defendant did not interfere with the use of any public area.
Experienced East Bay Defense Attorney Representation
If you or someone you know is facing public intoxication charges, speak to an experienced East Bay defense lawyer. Lynn Gorelick has over 30 years of criminal defense experience and understands the penalties involved with public intoxication charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, to give you a clean record. Whether you were arrested in Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Walnut Creek, Hayward, Richmond, Fremont, Dublin or anywhere else in Contra Costa County or Alameda Counties, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local laws, and the local officers and prosecutors involved.