Being charged with public intoxication is often the wrong charge. Police seem to hand out public intoxication because someone is drunk in public, or high on something in public, or a combination of alcohol and drugs.
Our office sees police issue such tickets most often on Friday nights/Saturday mornings and Saturday nights/Sunday mornings, or at sporting events. However, being drunk in public and not doing anything to affect others, however, is not a crime.
To violate Penal Code § 647(f), one can do one of two things. First, one must not only be so drunk or high, or a combination thereof, and be in such a state that one cannot care for oneself or one presents a safety risk to others. Alternatively, one must be so drunk or high, or a combination thereof, that one interferes with, obstructs or prevents others from using a street, sidewalk or other public travel route.
The most common example we see of the first way of violating 647(f) is when someone passes out drunk in a public place. Often, the person is partially unclothed or even naked. The person may also engage in fighting, but this can be more accurately charged as a Penal Code § 415(1) violation (“Disturbing the Peace – Fighting in Public”).
The second category of 647(f) violations are when someone is arrested for walking on a freeway, or in the middle of traffic. Simple jaywalking should not qualify, but is often ticketed as a 647(f) violation.
The penalty for being convicted of violating Penal Code § 647(f) is a maximum of six months in jail and /or a $1,000 fine.
Our office finds that when the client has no prior alcohol related convictions, or a conviction that is more than ten years prior, prosecutors will often amend the complaint to allege an infraction-level violation of disturbing the peace (Penal Code § 415(1) – Fighting in Public or § 415(2), Disturbing the Peace – Making Annoying or Loud Noise, or § 415(3), Disturbing the Peace by using offensive language). This is especially true if the client completes a dozen or more alcoholics anonymous meetings prior to the arraignment and brings documentation of this to court. The plea bargain may be one of delayed entry of plea or deferred entry of judgment if the client is fortunate, thereby “earning” a dismissal.
Rushing into a plea bargain is very common in such cases – and cannot be faulted if the client admits his or her conduct that meets the definition of 647(f). However, a quick resolution should never become a habit. It is often prudent to search for any store security camera tape, third-party witnesses and even see if the arresting officer has any history of falsifying police reports. After all, a misdemeanor conviction will haunt one’s employment future, ability to finance, eligibility for student loans and may affect licensing, such as if one is an attorney, doctor, registered nurse, dentist, teacher, security guard, real estate agent, real estate broker, pharmacist, notary, stock broker or architect, to name a few.