Written by attorney Scott Ryan Ball

California Penal Code 647(f) “Drunk in Public” Arrests Explained

Also known as a “drunk and disorderly," California Penal Code Section 647(f) makes it a misdemeanor crime for a person to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs in a public place and to be in such a condition that either:

1) the person’s intoxication makes him or her “unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety others" or

2) due to his or her level of intoxication, the person “interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way."

A conviction for a drunk in public carries with it up to six months of jail time, fines, and probation. Repeat offenders with two prior convictions may face up to a year in jail.

To be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt. First, the person must be in a public place. Courts have defined a public place as the “area outside a home in which a stranger is able to walk without challenge." This definition has been expanded somewhat by case law to include a car parked in a public street, the hallway in an apartment building, and the area in front of a house, including the driveway and front porch.

Next, it must be shown that person was in one of the two conditions stated above. An example of person who is unable to care for his or her own safety or the safety of others would be a person who is falling down drunk, unable to walk, with the potential of wandering into traffic. Merely being intoxicated, if you are in control of your facilities, is not enough for a conviction under this standard.

The second way a person may be convicted of this crime is if he or she interferes or obstructs a street, sidewalk, or public way. This can be shown when a person is lying on a street or sidewalk, or otherwise incapacitated in some way. Again, mere intoxication is not enough for a conviction. If you were lying on the ground asleep, but wake up as soon as you are approached by the officer and remove yourself as an obstruction, you should not be found guilty!

In reality, drunk in public violations are often charged, but with the help of a skilled attorney, should rarely result in convictions. Simply put, you must be pretty darn wasted to be found guilty. Even in that case, however, due to the minor nature of the offense it is often possible to enroll in a diversion program in which you may complete an alternative sentence, such as community service or Alcoholics Anonymous classes, and then have the charges dismissed completely. For most people, the most important consideration is the desire to keep a conviction off his or her record. With a charge of P.C. 647(f), that should be possible.

If you have been charged with a drunk in public violation due to a night out of drinking that got just a bit too wild, you should contact an attorney today. Even though this is a minor charge, it is important to make sure you do not end up with an ugly black mark on your record.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer