Public Intoxication | California PC 647(f)

July 8, 2016

Public intoxication, also referred as “drunk in public” is a misdemeanor offense charged under California PC 647(f) making it a crime to be under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance in a public place and either not be able to exercise care for your own safety or safety or another, or obstruct the free flow of streets or public ways.[1]

In many cases, this charged is built upon the exaggerations of the police officer.  Officer have a tendency to furiously cite people while disregarding the statutory requirements for there to be a violation of the statute namely due to a suspect’s behavior.  Moreover, oftentimes this charge results from retaliation after a person disrespects a police officer.  Consequently, it’s not uncommon for someone arrest under this charge to find themselves also charged with disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, or battery on a police officer or under the influence of a controlled substance.

Those cited for public intoxication are often around the beach cities – e.g., Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach, or Santa Monica.


Under CALCRIM 2966, to prove someone is guilty of public intoxication under PC 647(f), the prosecutor holds the burden to prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. Defendant was willfully under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a controlled substance;
  1. Defendant was in a public place;
  1. Defendant was unable to exercise care for his or her safety or safety of others;


  1. Defendant interfered with, obstructed, or prevent the free use of a street, sidewalk, or other public way.[2]


  • Involuntary Intoxication: Public intoxication charges require a defendant to willfully consume alcohol.  In particular, consumption must be willingly or done on purpose.  It doesn’t make punishable to those who involuntary consumed alcohol either by force, duress, or fear because it intervened upon a defendant’s ability to comply with the law.  Moreover, it will not punish someone who has an inculpable state of mind to violate the law.
  • Illegal Detention: The law requires that police officer’s be armed with some form of reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot in order to legally detain someone.[3]  If a police officer detains someone illegally and subsequently discovers or observes evidence of public drunkenness, then a hearing will be held to determine the admissibility of the officer’s observations under the Fourth Amendment.  A motion to suppress hearing will be held and if a court determines the officers actions were illegal, the evidence will be ordered inadmissible and the government will be unable to proceed with their case.
  • Public Place: A public place is a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there.[4]  However, a place merely exposed to public view does not, in and of itself, constitute a violation of public drunkenness if the place is not actually open to the public.[5]  To be clear, a public place within the meaning of this statute is a location readily accessible to all those who wish to go there rather than a place which the general public frequents.[6]  But it would not constitute a violation of the law if someone complied with a police officer’s request that they leave a private area and come out into a public street to be arrested.[7]
  • Exercising Care: A commonly disputed elements of this offense is the government’s burden of proving a defendant could not exercise care.  Care in these terms means a person cannot exercise care as a reasonable person would in the same circumstances.  This element is applied not only to the defendant, but others, and devices.


Penal code 647(f) is punishable for up to six months in the county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.  Often times, an attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to dismiss the case upon the completion of 10 or 20 AA’s meetings.  Furthermore, most people are eligible for diversion where a defendant avoids formal sentencing and upon completion of the diversion terms, the case will be dismissed.

Certain exceptions apply, however, but most individuals are eligible to participate in pretrial diversion under Penal Code 1000(a). In January 2018, the California Legislature amended section 1000(a) allowing most people charged with public intoxication to avoid a guilty or no contest plea by continuing the case during its pretrial stage. In the mean time, you will be required to complete AA meetings or perform community service. Upon completion your obligations, the court will dismiss your case.


A conviction for public intoxication may carry lasting consequences to someone’s employment, or it could adversely affect someone’s ability to gain or maintain a state license.  When charged with this offense, it’s important to retain an experienced Newport Beach Criminal Defense Attorney.  Our office considers all consequences and strives to achieve the best possible outcome.  If you’ve been arrested or charged with drunk in public under PC 647(f), contact the Law Offices of John D. Rogers for a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and all available defenses.




[1] California Penal Code 647(f) “…every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor: Who is found in any public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, controlled substance, or toluene, in a condition that he or she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of his or her being under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, or toluene, interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way.”

[2] CALCRIM No. 2966:

[3] See Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1.

[4] Cited from CALCRIM No. 2966 (“As used here, a public place is a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there.”)

[5] See People v. White (1991) 227 Cal.App.3d 866, 891 (“Defendant’s front yard was not a public place, where it was surrounded by a 3½ foot high fence, with unlocked but closed gate, and there were three dogs in the yard.”)

[6] See People v. Perez (1976) 64 Cal.App.3d 297, 301.

[7] See In re R.K. (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1615 [Minor who complied with police officer’s request that he leave a woodshed and come out to a public street did not thereby violate PC 647(f)].

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