California Penal Code § [Section] 647(f) – Public Intoxication
California Penal Code [CPC] §647(f) – Public Intoxication – California's law against Public Intoxication applies whenever anyone is found in a public place under the influence of a controlled substance, with the result that the person can't care for his or her own safety or the safety of others. The law also applies if a person interferes with, obstructs, or prevents the use of a public path or street because the person is under the influence of a controlled substance.
Public Intoxication is a Misdemeanor crime. You face up to six months in a county jail if convicted, or a fine of up to $1,000, or both a fine and imprisonment.
What Does California Penal Code §647(f) [Public Intoxication] Prohibit?
In sum, to be guilty of Public Intoxication under CPC §647(f), you must:
- Be under the influence of a controlled substance in a public place; AND,
- Be unable to exercise care for yourself or others; OR,
- Obstruct the free use of public streets/walkways.
Defining “Public Intoxication” Under California Penal Code §647(f)
To convict you under CPC §647(f), the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Willfully/Under The Influence: You were willfully under the inﬂuence of a controlled substance; AND,
- In A Public Place: You were in a space defined as “public” under the law; AND,
- Unable/Exercise Care: You were unable to exercise care for your safety or the safety of others; OR,
- Interfered With…/Public Way: You interfered with, obstructed, or prevented the free use of a street, sidewalk, or another public way.
Example: A college student, Defendant Dean, goes drinking on New Year's Eve. He gets extremely drunk. After the bar where he's drinking closes, Dean wanders outside and drifts into the public street. He doesn't notice that a police car is bearing down on him. The car barely misses Dean. The driver, Officer, gets out and arrests Dean for Public Intoxication in violation of CPC §647(f). Should Dean be convicted?
Conclusion: Dean, intending on consuming alcohol, went to a bar and got very intoxicated. Then he walked into a public street, which prevented its free use by drivers, including Officer. It's irrelevant that Dean wasn't actually hit by the police car; the crime was complete when Dean wandered into the street after willfully becoming intoxicated, thereby obstructing the road. Dean, it follows, should be convicted.
Penalties For Public Intoxication Under CPC §647(f)
As noted previously, Public Intoxication is a Misdemeanor under California law. If convicted, you face up to six (6) months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000 (one-thousand dollars) or a fine and imprisonment.
Defenses To California Penal Code §647(f) – Public Intoxication
Three of the most common defenses against a charge of Public Intoxication are:
You Weren't In Public
Example: Defendant Deana goes to a barbecue at Friend's house. Thinking she'll eat a lot, she doesn't consume anything the night before, but Deana starts drinking beer when she arrives. Deana decides not to eat altogether. She quickly becomes inebriated, starts yelling and falls down, almost striking her head on the concrete. Finally, Friend, unable to control Deana and concerned for her health, calls the police, who arrest Deana for violating §647(f). Should Deana be convicted?
Conclusion: Deana willfully became intoxicated and demonstrated that she was unable to care for her own safety when she fell and almost hit her head on the concrete in Friend's backyard. However, Deana was in Friend's backyard (a private space) when the incident occurred. This wouldn't be a “public place” simply because it isn't “a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there.” Deana, therefore, shouldn't be convicted simply because she was in a private place.
Your Civil Rights Were Violated During Police Investigation
Example: Defendant Damian goes to his favorite tavern to watch a football game. He drinks too much. When he leaves the tavern he falls down and passes out on the sidewalk. The police are summoned. Arresting Officer looks over Damian, decides he's too drunk to understand Arresting Officer, then cuffs Damian and throws him in the back of a police cruiser without reading Damian his “Miranda” rights. Later, at the station, after Damian has become coherent, Arresting Officer still neglects to read Damian his rights. Damian is then charged with violating §647(f). Should Damian be convicted of the accusation?
Conclusion: While police have a limited excuse for not reading an arrestee his or her rights when that person is incapable of understanding them, the excuse ends when the suspect is capable of hearing and understanding those same rights. At that point, police must read to the suspect his or her “Miranda” rights; otherwise, the civil rights of the arrestee are violated. In this example, Damian was too drunk to understand Officer on the street but not later at the station, yet Officer didn't read Damian his rights in either case. Without knowing his rights, Damian could effectively be tricked into convicting himself through his own statements, a fundamental denial of civil rights in the United States. Damian shouldn't be convicted because Arresting Officer violated Damian's civil rights while investigating the situation.
There Was Insufficient Evidence Of Your Intoxication
Example: Officer finds Defendant Dina passed out atop a bench in a public park. Suspecting that she has violated CPC §647(f), Officer arrests Dina without giving her a field sobriety or blood alcohol test. Then Officer takes her to the station (instead of the hospital) and has her booked without having a blood test performed to determine whether Dina is under the influence. When the time comes to file the charge, Officer has no facts showing that Dina was intoxicated in public. Should Dina be convicted nonetheless?
Conclusion: Officer, while he came upon Dina passed out in a public place, had to determine whether Dina was intoxicated if he wanted to charge her with Public Intoxication. The statutory law calls for a defendant to have at least one of the listed substances in his or her system at the time of the arrest. However, Officer didn't test Dina in any way, nor did he even inquire whether she was intoxicated; he simply assumed she was inebriated in public, then arrested, and charged her. This means that Officer cannot meet the evidentiary standard required to convict Dina of violating the law; he has no proof. Dina should be acquitted because there's insufficient evidence she was intoxicated at the time of arrest.
Note: The crimes below are described as “related” because they're frequently charged with CPC §647(f) and/or have common elements that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
The California Penal Code includes several offenses related to Public Intoxication, among them: Driving Under The Influence (CVC §23152(a)), Under The Influence Of A Controlled Substance (HSC §11550), and Disturbing The Peace (CPC §415).
Driving Under The Influence
Driving Under The Influence (§23152(a),(f),(g)) (“DUI”) is a crime under the California Vehicle Code (CVC). You can be charged with Driving Under The Influence when you drive a vehicle under the inﬂuence of alcohol, a drug, or alcohol and a drug. The crime is related to Public Intoxication because you can be charged in the same trial with DUI and with being intoxicated in public.
If you're convicted of Driving Under The Influence, usually a Misdemeanor, the penalty may be:
- A term of up to six (6) months in county jail; OR,
- A fine of up to $1,000 (one-thousand dollars); OR,
- Both a fine and imprisonment.
Note: The way you drive isn't in itself enough to establish whether you've driven under the inﬂuence. It isn't a defense that you're legally entitled to use a drug, or that something else might've impaired your driving ability, if you're under the inﬂuence when arrested for DUI.
You can always find more information in the California DUI Law section of the Kann California Defense Group's website. Feel free to contact the Kann Defense Group offices in Santa Clarita, Ventura, Encino, Pasadena or Los Angeles/Los Angeles County. Your call will go directly to a lawyer. That's guaranteed.
California Criminal Jury Instructions – Driving Under The Influence
To convict you under CVC §23152(a), the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
You drove a vehicle while under the inﬂuence of an alcoholic beverage.
Example: Defendant David is drinking with friends in his house when he realizes that he's left his newly-painted truck in the driveway. David, worried that the sun will spoil the new coat of paint, dashes from the side of his house while holding a beer and his keys. David hops into the truck and starts the engine just as Officer (who saw David running) pulls up to David's curb, gets David out of the truck, administers a blood alcohol test and arrests David for having a blood alcohol level of 0.10. David insists that, since he was just pulling into his garage, he wasn't really “driving” when arrested. Should David be convicted?
Conclusion: California DUI law contains no specifics regarding how far or for how long you have to drive to violate the law. Any driving, for any amount of time, is enough, so long as you have alcohol in your system in an amount that exceeds the legal limit at the time of arrest. David started the engine (which is enough to “drive” his truck) while having a blood alcohol level above 0.08, California's legal limit. It doesn't matter that David was only driving a few feet into his own garage. David should be convicted.
Under The Influence Of A Controlled Substance
California's Health and Safety Code (HSC) establishes the crime of Under The Influence Of A Controlled Substance (HSC §11550(a)). The law applies whenever anyone willfully uses, or is under the influence of, an illegal drug or one of the controlled substances listed in the statute (which are part of the Health and Safety Code). The crime is related to Public Intoxication because you can be charged under CPC §647(f) and HSC §11550 in the same trial if police think you're intoxicated and under the influence of a controlled substance when you're arrested.
If you're convicted of Under The Influence Of A Controlled Substance, a Misdemeanor, the penalty may be:
- A term of up to one (1) year in a county jail; OR,
- A fine of up to $1,000 (one-thousand dollars); OR,
- Both a fine and imprisonment.
Note: You're not guilty of using or being under the inﬂuence of a controlled substance if you have a valid prescription for the substance written by a physician licensed in California. The prosecution has to prove you don't have a valid prescription. However, even if you are convicted, the court can still place you on Probation (allowing you to serve at least part of your term outside jail) for as long as five years.
You can always find more information in the Controlled Substance Lawyer section of the Kann California Defense Group's website. Feel free to contact the Kann Defense Group offices in Santa Clarita, Ventura, Encino, Pasadena or Los Angeles/Los Angeles County. Your call will go directly to a lawyer - guaranteed.
California Criminal Jury Instructions – Under The Influence Of A Controlled Substance
To convict you under HSC §11550(a), the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
You willfully and unlawfully used a controlled substance listed in HSC § 11550 a short time before your arrest or you were under the inﬂuence of a controlled substance listed in HSC §11550 when arrested.
Example: A motorist, Defendant Doug, is pulled over for driving slowly in the fast lane of the 5 Freeway. Officer gets out of his cruiser, approaches Doug, and asks Doug whether he's under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Doug shows him a bottle of Serotonin and explains that he very recently took it “for [his] depression.” Officer recalls that “Depressants” are covered under HSC §11550(a) (in HSC §11054) and arrests Doug for being Under The Influence Of A Controlled Substance. Should Doug be convicted?
Conclusion: “Depressants” are listed as controlled substances in HSC §11550. However, though Doug drove having recently taken Serotonin, Serotonin is actually an anti-depressant. The drug, therefore, couldn't qualify as an illegal “Depressant” for purposes of prosecution because it isn't in fact a Depressant. Furthermore, Serotonin isn't listed in either HSC §§11054 or 11055 as a “controlled substance”; it isn't illegal to have it in your system in general. Thus, since it isn't actually unlawful to have Serotonin in his system, Doug shouldn't be convicted under HSC §11550.
Disturbing The Peace
Disturbing The Peace (CPC §415) occurs in California whenever anyone unlawfully fights or challenges another person to fight in public, intentionally disturbs another person with unreasonable noise, or uses offensive words likely to provoke violence in public. The charge is related to Public Intoxication because the crimes can involve similar objectionable public behavior.
If you're convicted of Disturbing The Peace, the penalty may be:
- A term in the county jail of up to 90 (ninety) days; OR,
- A fine of up to $400 (four hundred dollars); OR,
- Both a fine and imprisonment.
Note: Prosecutors will sometimes use a Disturbing The Peace charge in an effort to get a defendant to plead to some kind of offense.
More information can be found in the Disturbing The Peace Lawyer section of the Kann California Defense Group's website. If you have questions, contact any of the Kann Defense Group offices in Santa Clarita, Ventura, Encino, Pasadena or Los Angeles/Los Angeles County. Your call will go directly to a lawyer – and we always guarantee it.
California Criminal Jury Instructions – Disturbing The Peace
Note: While the statute creates a single crime, the prosecutor must prove different things to convict you under §415(1) (fighting), §415(2) (making unreasonable noise), or §415(3) (use of offensive words).
To convict you under §415(1), the prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
You unlawfully fought or challenged someone to ﬁght. The prosecutor must also prove that you and the other person were in a public place or building when the ﬁght occurred or the challenge was made.
Example: Defendant Diana doesn't like the way her roommate, Victim Veronica, looks at Boyfriend, Diana's significant other. She accosts Veronica outside their apartment one evening and challenges Veronica to a fight inside the apartment (because Diana doesn't want to attract police attention). When inside, however, Veronica calls the police and reports Diana for Disturbing The Peace. Diana is arrested and charged under §415(1). Diana insists the fight wasn't “public.” Should Diana be convicted?
Conclusion: Diana challenged Veronica to a fight in public – meaning that, irrespective of whether they actually fought in a public place, Diana violated the law as soon as she accosted Veronica outside the apartment so as to get her to fight inside the residence. Diana should be convicted under CPC §415(1).
What Can I Do If I'm Charged With Public Intoxication?
The State of California regards Public Intoxication as a serious offense. If you're charged with Public Intoxication, it's essential that you retain a skilled, dedicated criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your rights, freedom, and livelihood are at stake.
Remember, a professional criminal defense attorney may be able to:
- Negotiate a lesser charge in a plea bargain;
- Reduce your sentence;
- Or even get charges dismissed completely.
The attorneys at the Kann California Defense Group have an excellent understanding of the local courts and an extensive knowledge of California's criminal justice system. We can represent you in Ventura, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, Encino, Pasadena and many other Southern California cities. If you or someone you know has been arrested or charged with Public Intoxication, our attorneys will analyze the facts of your case and plan a defense strategy that will help you obtain the very best possible outcome.
 “Controlled substance” includes “intoxicating liquor[s], any drug, […] [ ] toluene[s], or any combination of” these. See CPC §647(f).
 “Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose.” See California Criminal Jury Instructions 2966 (CALCRIM) (2017).
 “[A] public place is a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there.” See above.
 See above.
 See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) for a complete discussion of “Miranda” arrest rights.
 For more information, see the Kann California Defense Group's website.
 See above.
 See Endnote 7.
 See CPC §19.
 See Endnote 7.
 See CVC §23152(b).
 See above.
 See HSC §11550(a).
 See Endnote 10.
 See above.
 See Endnote 13.
 See Endnote 16.
 For more information, see “What is serotonin and what does it do?” by James McIntosh. Medical News Today, Feb. 2 2018 (last update).
 See HSC §11055(e)(1)-(5).
 The same is true if Doug is charged with Driving Under The Influence (CVC §23152(a),(f),(g)).
 See CPC §415.v