7 Steps To Understanding California Drunk In Public Laws

Penal Code Section 647(f)

In this post, I will provide 7 steps to understanding California’s public intoxication or drunk in public laws.

This law is prosecuted under penal code 647(f) pc.

Let’s get started…

What is Drunk in Public?

California Penal Code Section 647(f) — California’s law on being Drunk in Public does not just punish being drunk in public.  It specifically punishes the conduct of being so drunk in public that you cannot exercise care for your own safety or the safety of others; or if you are so drunk that you are interfering with, obstructing, or preventing others from using streets, sidewalks, or other “public ways.”

How Does the Prosecutor Prove A California Drunk in Public Charge?

To prove that you are guilty of “Drunk in Public,” the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements1:

Willfully Under The Influence

In this context, willfully under the influence means that you voluntarily drank or took drugs.  If someone slipped you drugs or gave you an alcoholic substance without you realizing it, you were not willfully under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


Jane and Bob went out drinking to the bar and Bob slipped a drug into Jane’s drink so she can loosen up and have fun without worrying too much about work.  If Jane behaves in a way that could lead to drunk in public charges, she cannot be found guilty, because she did not willfully ingest the drug.

Public Place

When you were under the influence, you were in a public place3;

  • Mall
  • Stores
  • Gas station
  • Night club/bar
  • Streets
  • Hotel or residential building hallways
  • Parked car on a public street4
Unable To Exercise Care For Your Own Or The Safety Of Others

Because you were under the influence, you interfered with, obstructed, or prevented the free use of a street, sidewalk, or other public way.


Joan ingests drugs at a party that cause her to frantically run up to a freeway ramp, thinking she can walk across the freeway lanes to the other side of the freeway.  Joan’s conduct immediately causes a big wreckage of cars that run into one another trying to avoid running over Joan.  Joan can be charged with this offense, because her behavior obstructed the use of a freeway.

Merely being drunk in public is not sufficient:


John has been drinking heavily at a bar and when he was ready to head home, he realized he was too drunk to drive and decided to walk home.  Although he was slightly swaying from side to side while walking, he was not harmful to himself or others.  Because John is not a danger to himself or others, and because he was not interfering with others ability to access the public ways, he is not guilty of drunk in public.

The following behavior can cause a drunk in public charge:

  • Throwing rocks at oncoming traffic
  • Trying to hail a cab by standing in the middle of the road, or so close to the traffic that the traffic has to stop
  • Jumping off of a high stage into the crowd in a night club, where such behavior is not expected

How Can You Fight California Drunk in Public Charges?

The most common defenses that a skilled criminal defense attorney can use to defend you from “Drunk in Public” are as follows:

You Were Not In Public

If you were arrested for behavior you engaged in while inside your home or inside a hotel room, you are not guilty of “drunk in public” because you were not engaged in the behavior in a place that is open to the public.

You Did Not Willfully Ingest Alcohol/Drugs

As mentioned earlier, to be guilty of the offense, you had to have willfully become intoxicated.  If you did not know that what you were drinking was alcohol or someone slipped you a drug in your drink, you are not guilty of “drunk in public.”

Lack Of Probable Cause

If the police violated your Constitutional rights, because they stopped you or arrested you without having enough of a reason to do so, your attorney can request from the court that whatever evidence the police obtained illegally is suppressed and that the case be dismissed. However, the statute itself has been ruled to be constitutional5.

  • The police arrested you for being drunk in public without seeing any conduct that either shows that you were a danger to yourself or others, or that you interfered or obstructed other’s ability to access the public ways;
  • The police performed an illegal search on you in violation of the search and seizure law

Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing Guidelines

California Penal Code 647(f) is a misdemeanor offense.  If convicted, you may face the following penalties:

FineMax of $1,0006
ProbationInformal probation7
County JailMax of 6 months in county jail8
Repeat Offenders

If you were convicted of Penal Code 647(f) three times within a 12-month period, you face a minimum of 90 days in a county jail.  However the court can suspend that sentence if you enter a 60 day alcohol treatment facility.

Related Articles You May Be Interested In

Plea Option

Disturbing The Peace:

Pursuant to Penal Code section 415, you may be guilty of this offense if you act in any of the following ways:

  1. Unlawfully fight in a public place or challenge another person in a public place to fight;
  2. Maliciously and willfully disturb another person by loud and unreasonable noise;
  3. Use offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.

This offense is related to “drunk in public” because it involves unlawful conduct in a public place.  However, it does not necessarily involve someone being intoxicated. This plea reduction may be helpful for someone with a professional license that is seeking to avoid conviction on an alcohol related charge.

If charged with the offense, you face a maximum sentence of 90 days in county jail and a four hundred dollar $400 maximum fine.

Next Steps If You Have Been Charged With Drunk In Public

If you have been arrested and would like to learn more about what attorneys charge.

If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.

If you would like to read Diana Aizman’s interview regarding this topic  on Vice

If you are ready to discuss a pending case with an criminal defense lawyer contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.

Get Legal Help

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 


  1. California Penal Code Section 647(f): 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. Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. []
  3. As used here, a public place is a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there; or is open to the public.  Public Place Defined.  In re Zorn (1963) 59 Cal.2d 650, 652 [30 Cal.Rptr. 811, 381 P.2d 635]People v. Belanger (1966) 243 Cal.App.2d 654, 657 [52 Cal.Rptr. 660]; People v. Perez (1976) 64 Cal.App.3d 297, 300–301 [134 Cal.Rptr. 338]. []
  4. In People v. Belanger (1966) 243 Cal.App.2d 654, 657 [52 Cal.Rptr. 660], the court held that the defendant was in a public place when he was found sitting in a parked car on a public street. []
  5. Statute Constitutional:Sundance v. Municipal Court (1986) 42 Cal.3d 1101, 1119–1121 [232 Cal.Rptr. 814, 729 P.2d 80]; In re Joseph G. (1970) 7 Cal.App.3d 695, 703–704 [87 Cal.Rptr. 25]; In re Spinks (1967) 253 Cal.App.2d 748, 752 [61 Cal.Rptr. 743]. []
  6. California Penal Code 19 []
  7. See Same, Penal Code 19 []
  8. See Same, Penal Code 19 []


Daniel Rodriguez

Hi my wife got arrested for public intoxication few days ago she was at a bar that is close to our house and decided to walk back home because she had lost her cellphone so she couldn’t call me or an uber and she also took her shoes off because her feet were hurting. On her way back home a cop pulled over to check on her and arrested her after the officer saw she was intoxicated but she wasn’t insulting or threatening anyone it was 12am and the streets were empty. What can we do in this case can we fight it ?

Hi Daniel: I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s experience. This is definitely a defensible case and depending on the circumstances could result in a dismissal. Please feel free to contact our office for a consultation.

Daniel Rodriguez

Ok thank you I’ll give you a call once I get o it o f work

Hi I am 19 years old and got arrested for being drunk in public. I was at a party and drank too much so my friends decided to take me home. We were about 200 feet from my house when I was arrested. I do not remember much because I had drank too much however, my friends said I was not doing anything crazy. I was just walking home stumbling around a little bit. I answered all the cops questions and was complying to all of their requests. To me it seems unfair that I was arrested right around the corner from my house. I never drank in public I was trying to get home from a party.

Hello Jared: that does seem unnecessary. Depending on where this happened, we may be able to help. Give us a call to schedule a consultation about your case.

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