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Public Intoxication Charges
- California Penal Code §647(f) -

Public Intoxication Charges
- Penal Code §647(f) -

California Penal Code §647(f) makes it illegal to be “drunk in public.” That said, just because you go to a bar or have one too many drinks doesn’t mean you have violated the law. There are certain requirements that a prosecutor must prove before you can be convicted of public intoxication.

The following information is intended to provide a general understanding of public intoxication in California. It is always recommended that someone charged with a public intoxication contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.

1.  What are the elements of public intoxication?

Before someone can be found guilty of a crime, the prosecutor must prove all of the essential components of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The essential components of a crime are called the “elements” of the crime.

To prove someone is guilty of public intoxication in violation of PC 647(f) the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The person was willfully under the influence of alcohol and/or a drug;

  2. When the person was under the influence, they were in a public place; AND

  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.

2. What are the penalties for public intoxication?

Violating PC 647(j) is a misdemeanor criminal offense. The maximum penalty for public intoxication is: 

  1. Up to 6 months in the county jail;

  2. A fine not to exceed $1,000; or

  3. Both the fine and imprisonment.

In lieu of jail time, a judge may grant you informal probation, also called misdemeanor or summary probation. Informal probation for a violation of Penal Code §647(f) can last no more than one year. 

Inmate Handcuffed

A judge may also order that a defendant serve time in county jail as a term of probation. 

Additionally, rather than having you pay a fine, a judge may offer you the option of completing community service.

3.  Common defenses to public intoxication charges.

A skillful attorney can often successfully have a public intoxication charge reduced or dismissed using one of the following common defenses:

Was Not in A Public Place –

As stated, to be convicted of public intoxication the prosecutor must prove that you were intoxicated in a public place. A public place is defined as a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there.


For example, imagine you had been drinking on your front porch with some friends. Also imagine that your porch is visible to the public and someone becomes concerned about your drinking and calls the police. As long as you remain on your property, the responding officers would not be permitted to arrest you for public intoxication.

Was Not Willfully Intoxicated –

One key element to public intoxication is that you willfully ingested the alcohol or drugs. In other words, you must have intended to consume the alcohol or drugs.


Thus, if someone ingests alcohol or drugs without knowing they were doing so, then that person would not be culpable for public intoxication.

Insufficient Evidence of Intoxication –

Another common defense to a public intoxication allegation is that you were not actually under the influence to the degree required by law.


To be guilty of public intoxication, you must be unable to exercise care over yourself or others due to your intoxication. Thus, the prosecutor must prove that your were a danger to yourself or others.

4.  Will a conviction for public intoxication affect my record? 

The short answer to this question is, it depends. If you are convicted of public intoxication, then the conviction will go on your record. However, there are ways of preventing a conviction or expunging a conviction to remove it from your criminal record.

Negotiate the Case with the Prosecutor or Judge –

Drunk in public is a relatively low-level crime. It is often a waste of court resources to go through an entire trial just to convict someone of being drunk in public. To remedy the imbalance, prosecutors and judges are often willing to negotiate with defense attorneys.


In doing so, a skillful criminal defense attorney can often resolve the case without having the defendant plead guilty. If the defendant never pleads guilty or is never found guilty at trial, then (s)he would not have to worry about a criminal conviction on their record.

Misdemeanor Diversion (PC 1001.95) –

Another way to prevent a conviction for public intoxication is to request that the court place the defendant on misdemeanor diversion. Misdemeanor diversion – also called PC 1001.95 diversion – allows a judge to continue a criminal case for up to two-years.


While the case is continued, the judge will order the defendant to complete certain tasks related to the offense. Where a person is on misdemeanor diversion for a public intoxication offense, terms may include some of the following:

  • Violate no new laws;

  • Attend A/A meetings;

  • Perform community service; and/or

  • Pay restitution for any damages caused.

If a defendant successfully completes misdemeanor diversion for the entire period the case was diverted, then the judge is required to dismiss the defendant’s case.

Three people participating in community service

Many defendants convicted of public intoxication are ordered to perform some form of community service. 

Again, since misdemeanor diversion does not require a defendant to plead guilty before participating in the program, the defendant will not suffer a conviction on their criminal record.

Expungement –

If the above options are unsuccessful and the defendant ultimately suffers a conviction, then the defendant may be able to expunge the conviction. To learn more about if and when you would be eligible for an expungement please visit the expungement page.

It is important to remember that every situation is different. If you or someone you love has been charged with public intoxication for allegedly violating PC 647(f), it is imperative that you contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.

Contact An Orange County Criminal Lawyer

John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan is a trusted Orange County criminal defense lawyer that prides himself on his ability to communicate with clients as he helps them navigate our complex criminal justice system.


Attorney Mullen-Lujan was named one of the Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Orange and Newport Beach. He has extensive experience handling both adult and juvenile criminal cases and can provide you the zealous advocacy you need.


Contact JPLaw, P.C. to schedule your FREE consultation with local Orange County criminal defense lawyer John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan. Together you will review your case and develop a legal defense strategy tailored just for you!

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