Penal Code 647 f PC – California’s Public Intoxication Laws


Penal Code 647 f PC is the California statute that makes it crime for a person to be drunk in public. Public intoxication, under this statute, can be because of either alcohol or drug use.

This statute is one of several California laws on disorderly conduct.

PC 647 f says:

“[A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if] 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.”

Examples of public intoxication include:

  • after a bartender cuts Ted off because he is intoxicated, Ted grabs a stool and throws it across the bar.
  • while drunk, Jose lies down on a set of train tracks and fights off a passerby that tries to move him.
  • Janelle, under the influence of cocaine, passes out on a sidewalk and thereby forces people walking by to step over her.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under this code section. These include showing that the defendant:

  • was not in a public place,
  • was involuntarily intoxicated, and/or
  • was not an interference or an obstruction.

Penalties

A violation of 647 f is charged as a misdemeanor in California (as opposed to a felony or an infraction).

The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary probation).

Also note that, if a person is convicted of an offense under this statute, this conviction:

A person convicted of this offense can also seek to have it expunged once he successfully completes:

  • probation (if imposed), or
  • any jail time (if imposed).

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

a bottle of vodka in trench coat pocket drunk in public
Penal Code 647f PC is the California statute that makes it crime for a person to be drunk in public

1. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 647 f PC?

Penal Code 647 f PC is the California statute that makes it crime for a person to be drunk in public.1

A prosecutor must prove three things to successfully convict a defendant of this crime. These are:

  • 1. the defendant was willfully under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a controlled substance,
  • 2. when the defendant was under the influence, he was in a public place, and either
  • 3a. the defendant was unable to exercise care for his own safety, or the safety of others, OR
  • 3b. because the defendant was under the influence, he interfered with, obstructed, or

prevented the free use of a street, sidewalk, or other public way.2

The this section is to protect:

  • the offender from his own foolishness, and
  • the public from the potential dangers associated with an intoxicated person.3

The question of whether a defendant is “unable to exercise care for his own safety, or the safety of others,” is a question of fact. This means that a judge or jury will rule on the issue by looking at all of the facts and circumstances within a given case.4

Questions often arise under this statute on:

  • the meaning of “willful” intoxication, and
  • the meaning of a “public place.”

1.1. Willfulness

For PC 647 f matters, someone commits an act “willfully” when he does it willingly or on purpose.5

This means that a defendant must have voluntarily ingested drugs and/or alcohol. If he did so on accident, or by force, then he is not guilty of being drunk in public.

1.2. Drunk in “public”

As used under this statute, a “public place” is a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there.

Obvious examples of a public place include:

  • a barber shop6,
  • streets and sidewalks7, and
  • public businesses or entertainment venues like restaurants, clubs, shopping malls, and parks.

In addition, California courts have ruled that the following less obvious places also qualify as “public places:”

  • a car parked on a public street8,
  • a common hallway in an apartment building9, and
  • an area in front of someone's house, including the driveway, front lawn, and front porch.10

2. Are there legal defenses to public intoxication?

If a person is accused of a crime under this statute, then he can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.

Three common defenses to this crime are to show that the person was:

  1. not in a public place,
  2. involuntarily intoxicated, and/or
  3. there was no interference or obstruction.

2.1. Not in a public place

Recall that an accused is only guilty under this code section if he is drunk in public. Further, “in public” has a very specific definition under this law and has been interpreted by the courts in certain ways. This means it is always a legal defense to PC 647 f accusations for an accused to say that, although intoxicated, he was not in a public place (e.g., he was drunk in his own home).

2.2. Involuntarily intoxicated

Also recall that a defendant must be “willfully under the influence” to be guilty under this statute. If an accused was drunk by accidentally ingesting a drug or alcohol, or did so through involuntary means, then he is not guilty of being drunk in public.

Generally speaking, a person is involuntarily intoxicated if either of the following occurred:

  • he consumed alcohol, drugs, or some other intoxicating substance without knowing he was doing so, or
  • somebody forced or tricked him into consuming an intoxicating substance.

2.3. No interference or obstruction

A party may be convicted under this code section if, while drunk, he interfered with or obstructed the free use of a street, sidewalk, or other public way. A defense, therefore, is for an accused to show that, although intoxicated, he did not interfere with a public way. Perhaps, for example, he was drunk behind a dumpster in an alleyway.

man behind bars for drunk in public
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. What are the penalties for public intoxication?

A violation of 647 f PC is charged as a misdemeanor in California.11

The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.12

Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary probation).

4. Are there immigration consequences if a person is drunk in public?

A public intoxication conviction may have negative immigration consequences.

Note that under United States immigration law, certain kinds of criminal convictions in California can lead to a non-citizen being deported. Some convictions can also make an immigrant "inadmissible.”

The major categories of “deportable” or “inadmissible” crimes are:

  • crimes of moral turpitude,
  • aggravated felonies,
  • controlled substances (drug) offenses,
  • firearms offenses, and
  • domestic violence crimes.13

Given the above categories, if a defendant violated this statute because he was intoxicated via drug use or by using a controlled substance, then there may be grounds for deportation or inadmissibility. Note, though, that the facts of the case would probably have to suggest a flagrant violation of the law for these grounds to exist.

5. Can a person get an expungement after a Penal Code 647f conviction?

A person convicted under this section can try to get the offense expunged.

Under Penal Code 1203.4, an expungement releases an individual from virtually "all penalties and disabilities" arising out of the conviction.14

One particular benefit is that an expunged conviction does not need to be disclosed to potential employers.

As a basic rule, PC 1203.4 authorizes an expungement for a misdemeanor or felony offense provided the applicant:

  1. successfully completed probation (either felony probation or misdemeanor probation), and
  2. is not currently:
  • charged with a criminal offense,
  • on probation for a criminal offense, or
  • serving a sentence for a criminal offense.15

This means that once a defendant has successfully completed probation, or serving a jail term for the same, he may begin trying to get the crime expunged.

6. Does a drunk in public conviction affect a person's gun rights?

A conviction for public intoxication does not have an effect on the convicted party's gun rights.

Note that some felony and misdemeanor convictions will result in the defendant losing his rights to own a gun in California.

Also note that some misdemeanors carry a 10-year firearm ban.

But a conviction for being drunk in public will not result in a person losing ownership of his gun or being banned from the gun for a period of time.

7. Are there crimes related to being drunk in public?

There are three crimes related to being drunk in public. These are:

  1. driving under the influence – VC 23152a,
  2. disturbing the peace – PC 415, and
  3. loitering to solicit the purchase of alcohol – PC 303a.

7.1. Driving under the influence – VC 23152a

Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC is the California DUI law that makes it a crime for a person to operate a motor vehicle while "under the influence" of alcohol.16

"Under the influence" means that a driver's physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that he can no longer drive as well as a cautious sober person.17

In California, motorists can be prosecuted under this statute even if their blood alcohol concentration was below 0.08%.

A first, second or third offense under VC 23152a is charged as misdemeanors in California. Penalties for a DUI conviction may include:

7.2. Disturbing the peace – PC 415

Penal Code 415 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to “disturb the peace.” Disturb the peace means to either:

  • fight, or challenge someone to a fight, in a public place,
  • purposefully disturb another person with loud and unreasonable noise, and
  • use offensive words in a public place that are likely to provoke a violent reaction.18

A violation of PC 415 is charged as a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to 90 ninety days, and/or
  • a maximum fine of up to $400.19

Please note that a prosecutor can charge this crime as “disturbing the peace” no matter the specific facts making up the crime.20

7.3. Loitering to solicit the purchase of alcohol – PC 303a

California Penal Code 303a PC makes it a crime for a person to loiter in or around a bar or restaurant for the purpose of asking other patrons or customers to buy drinks for him.21

“Loitering” is defined as a person remaining in a certain place even though he has no lawful reason to be there.

A violation of PC 303a is charged as a misdemeanor in California.22

The potential penalties include:

  • up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.23

Were you accused of being drunk in public in California? Call us for help…

drunk in public defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of public intoxication in california, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

For similar accusations in Nevada, please see our article on “NRS 258.260 - Nevada "Public Intoxication" Laws.”


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 647 f PC. This statute states: “[A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if] 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. Disorderly Conduct: Under the Influence in Public.

  3. People v. Belanger (1966) 243 Cal. App. 2d 654.

  4. People v. Murrietta (1967) 251 Cal. App. 2d 1002. See also People v. Lively (1992) 10 Cal. App. 4th 1364.

  5. CALCRIM No. 2966. Disorderly Conduct: Under the Influence in Public.

  6. In re Zorn, (1963) 59 Cal.2d 650.

  7. People v. Belanger (1966) 243 Cal. App. 2d 654.

  8. See same.

  9. People v. Perez, (1976) 64 Cal.App.3d 297.

  10. People v. Olson, (1971) 18 Cal.App.3d 592.

  11. California Penal Code 647f PC.

  12. California Penal Code 19 PC.

  13. See INA 237 (a) (2) (A).

  14. California Penal Code 1203.4 PC.

  15. See same.

  16. California Vehicle Code 23152a VC.

  17. California Vehicle Code 23152 VC.

  18. California Penal Code 415 PC

  19. See same.

  20. In re Application of Deusing (1918), 178 Cal. 205.

  21. California Penal Code 303a PC.

  22. See same.

  23. See same.

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