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Drunk in Public Law & Defense

Penal Code 647(f)

Information on the crime of drunk in public, (also called drunk and disorderly or public intoxication) can be found at penal code 647(f).

PC 647(f)) Law

To prove that a defendant is guilty of public intoxication under (PC 647(f), the prosecutor must prove that the defendant:

  • Was in a public place (defined below)
  • While in public, the defendant was willfully under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, or any combination of alcohol and drugs, AND either of the following:
  • The defendant was in a condition that makes him or her unable to exercise care for his or her safety or the safety of others, OR
  • By reason of intoxication, defendant interferes with, obstructs, or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way

The term willfully in PC 647(f) means the defendant purposely became intoxicated. In other words, to be found guilty of public intoxication, defendant must have knowingly ingesting alcohol or drugs. This is discussed in more detail below under Defenses to PC 647(f).

Also, the term public place in PC 647(f) means a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there, not including a person’s home.

Sentence for Public Intoxication

PC 647(f) is charged as a misdemeanor. A person who is convicted of public intoxication under Penal Code 647(f) can be sentenced up to 180 days in the county jail.

A defendant who has three or more convictions of PC 647(f) within one year may be sentenced to a year in the county jail.

Additional punishment: If convicted of drunk in public (PC 647(f), the defendant could face up a $1,000 fine. Furthermore, the defendant may face consequences with professional licensing or immigration issue.

If the defendant is place on probation, the court may still impose a jail sentence. The judge may also require probation conditions that are relevant to goal of punishment and curbing a repeat offense.

Minors convicted of PC 647(f) may be ordered, with the consent of the defendant, to participate in DUI classes (even if a DUI is not part of the conviction or allegations: See PC 647.2).

In some PC 647(f) cases it may be possible to have the charges dismissed depending of the facts of the case. It may also be possible to reduce the charge or at least reduce the sentence that is associated with the crime. The facts of the case as well as the defendant's criminal history plays a large part in this effort.

Defense to PC 647(f)

Involuntary Intoxication

Under PC 647(f), the prosecutor must prove the defendant became voluntarily intoxicated, if the defendant was involuntarily intoxicated at the time he or she was in public, the defendant will have a valid defense. Examples of involuntary intoxication include: defendant’s drink was spiked; defendant was forced to drink an alcoholic or drugged beverage against his or her will; defendant was accidentally served an alcoholic beverage when he or she was under the impression it was a non-alcoholic beverage, etc.

Not in a Public Place

If, at the time of arrest, the defendant is not drunk in a public place, he or she cannot be found guilty of public intoxication underPC 647(f). Further, if the police find the defendant in a non-public space, and then take him or her to a public place in order to arrest him or her, the defendant cannot be found guilty for being drunk in public. For example, sometimes the officer will call a defendant out of a private home to talk to him and then the officer will determine that the defendant is drunk in public, but the defendant was brought outside, and therefore, he or she should not be guilty of PC 647(f).

The most common example is when a defendant is pulled over for a DUI and his or her passengers are asked to exit the vehicle; thereafter, the officer determines that the passengers are in public...and under the influence. These passengers are only in public because the officers asked them to exit the vehicle. Therefore, the passengers should not be convicted of PC 647(f).

Insufficient Evidence of Intoxication

If the police officers who encounter defendant do not properly administer tests to determine the defendant’s intoxication, or if the police officer’s method of administrating the test and examining the defendant are improper, it could lead to insufficient evidence to prove the defendant is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Other defense may include: statute of limitations (1 yr), coerced confession as to drug consumption, mistake of fact, duress, and more.

To learn more about the crime of public intoxication, or drunk in public, filed under PC 647(f), contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation.


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Crimes related to PC 647(f)

  • PC 372 Public nuisance
  • PC 415(1) Disturbing the peace by fighting
  • PC 647c Obtruction of street, sidewalk or other place open to public
  • PC M647(f) Public Intoxication

California Drunk in Public Laws & Defense PC 647(f)


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