California Penal Code definition of public intoxication

California Penal Code § 647, subdivision (f) states: A person is guilty of a misdemeanor if they are “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.”

What the People Must Prove

According to the CALCRIM California Jury Instructions, to prove that the Defendant committed the offense of public intoxication, the People must prove that:

  • 1. The defendant was willfully under the influence of alcohol, a drug, a controlled substance or toluene;
  • 2. The defendant was under the influence when he/she was in a public place; AND either
  • 3. The defendant was unable to exercise care for his/her own safety or the safety of others;
    OR
  • 4. The defendant interfered with, obstructed, or prevented the free use of a street, sidewalk, or other public way due to being under the influence.

**“Willfully intoxicated” – Intentionally under the influence; no one was forced to take the attitude/mind altering substance.

**”Public place” – “A place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there.”

Punishment for Drunk in Public/Public Intoxication

In California, drunk in public/public intoxication “is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.” (Pen. Code, § 19.) Defendants who get convicted of three drunk in public/public intoxication offenses within a twelve-month period will either be imprisoned for a period not less than 90-days in county jail or spend 60 days in an alcohol treatment and recovery program.

Collateral Consequences – License Suspension and employment consequences

If you are convicted of public intoxication and are under 21 then your driver’s license will be suspended for one year. If you are not yet eligible to drive then the Court will order the DMV to delay issuing you a driver’s license until one year subsequent to the time you become legally eligible to drive. (Veh. Code, § 13202.5.)

Because anybody under 21 who is convicted of public intoxication will lose their driver’s license for one year, Defendants under the age of 21 risk losing their job if the job requires that they maintain a valid driver’s license.

Defenses against Drunk in Public/Public Intoxication

Lack of probable cause, insufficient evidence of intoxication, the place in which the defendant was intoxicated was not a public place, etc. are all common defenses against a Drunk in Public/Public Intoxication charge. Be sure to consult with your attorney about all of the facts of your case in order to make sure that you are provided the best possible defense.

Immigration Consequences

Misdemeanor criminal convictions can have drastic immigration consequences, such as deportation, denial of naturalization, exclusion from admission or denial or re-entry. Therefore, if you are not a U.S. citizen and you are charged with public intoxication, it is critical that you speak to a knowledgeable criminal/immigration attorney about your specific immigration status, your current criminal case, and your entire criminal history, to find out what effect a public intoxication conviction would have on your immigration status.