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Fighting a Drunk in Public Charge

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2015 | Firm News |

Hollywood and other Los Angeles cities are home to numerous dance clubs and bars. With drinking establishments, there is always the risk of becoming intoxicated, and making bad decisions. Some choices could lead to legal trouble.

Most people are aware that it is unlawful, dangerous, and unwise to drive after a night out drinking. Some are unaware that it is a crime to be “drunk in public.” Similar to a driving under the influence allegation, a drunk in public criminal charge could lead to a criminal record, jail time, and adverse employment consequences.

California Penal Code section 647 prohibits disorderly conduct. One aspect of disorderly conduct is being “drunk in public.” Subsection (f) of Pen. Code section 647, prohibits being intoxicated in public to such an extent that you cannot care for the safety of yourself or others, or so drunk that you obstruct a street, sidewalk, or public way. Let’s break down the elements:

(1) Intoxicated in a public place; and
(2) Cannot care for the safety of oneself or others, OR obstructing a street, sidewalk, or public way.

An arrest can occur if a drunk person is exhibiting behavior sufficient to meet element 2. One example: Danny the Drunk leaves the bar at 2:00 am, after having consumed ten shots of tequila. Danny the Drunk drank too much, and starts to have trouble walking. He can’t go further than five feet, before he falls onto the street. Danny the Drunk is not hurt, but he blocks a group of nuns from walking by. Policeman Peter sees the whole thing and arrests Danny the Drunk for being “drunk in public.”

Now, like every other criminal charge, there are ways to challenge a drunk in public allegation. A defendant could challenge the probable cause of the arrest. Like in my blog post about 1538 motions, a case can be dismissed if the arresting officer arrested the defendant without sufficient probable cause. Danny may be not be drunk at all; he could suffer from a medical condition that caused him to fall onto the street.

The prosecutor also has to prove both elements beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant could challenge the “public” aspect of the crime. If a person was arrested while in a hotel, or store, both private businesses, he or she could argue that he or she was not in a public place.

Another way to challenge a drunk in public charge is if the defendant ingested an intoxicating drug involuntarily. For example, say Alan wants to play a prank on his friend Stu. Alan buys Stu a drink, but drops a Rufilin into the drink. Unbeknownst to Stu, while taking a drink, he is also taking an intoxicating drug. If Stu later cannot care for himself, in a public place, and was arrested, he would be able to successfully beat the “drunk in public” charge.

A lot of cases involve a person who was drunk, but not so drunk that he or she could not care for himself or herself. If you or someone you know is charged with a drunk in public criminal charge, it is wise to retain a criminal defense attorney. The potential penalties are too great.