647 (f) [Being in public] 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… interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way.
647(f), better known as “public drunkenness”, “drunk in public” or “public intoxication,” is part of California’s disorderly conduct law. It’s most often used when someone who is intoxicated causes a disturbance, poses a threat (to themselves or others), or obstructs a road or sidewalk. The law is the same whether alcohol or drugs are involved.
Technically, only people who are on public property or in a public space can be found guilty of public intoxication. Public spaces include:
- All highways, streets and roads that aren’t private drives
- Government buildings
- Parking lots and walking paths of public spaces
- Any other space that is generally open to the public
Public Intoxication as a DUI Plea Bargain
Public drunkenness can sometimes be used as a plea bargain for DUI, although it’s rare. It’s usually only used when a person was clearly drunk, but it’s hard to prove they were driving—such as when they were found passed out in their car. It may also be used if the “driver” was arrested after they were no longer driving, and they deny driving at all—for example, if they are found intoxicated at home after their car was reported swerving.
If it’s easy to prove that the person was driving, or they already admitted they were driving, public intoxication is not likely as a plea bargain. Instead, wet reckless is more common.
Penalties for Public Intoxication
Public intoxication is a misdemeanor offense. Penalties include:
- Up to 6 months in jail
- Up to $1,000 in fines
- Informal, unsupervised probation
However, public intoxication is not a driving-related crime. That means it does not carry any risk of license suspension and it does not trigger any changes to your car insurance. It also does not carry any “points” for your driving record.
Perhaps most important, public intoxication will not be treated as a DUI offense for future legal purposes. This makes a big difference because repeat DUI offenders face steep extra penalties. For example, if you were convicted of DUI or wet reckless today and then arrested for drunk driving again in six years, the penalties would be much worse the second time around. But if you were convicted of public intoxication today, you would face no added penalties.
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