In many cases, you are legally allowed to be under the influence of alcohol or other legal drugs in public. It is only when you are perceived to be a problem for other people when the police may detain you. They may arrest you for public intoxication or they may put you in custody for up to 72 hours for treatment and observation.
If you are detained for 72 hours in civil protective custody, you will not be facing charges from the incident. The stay in the “drunk tank” may not be pleasant, but you won’t be facing criminal charges. However, not all jurisdictions in California have this option and police may opt to charge you with public intoxication if you are unruly.
If you’ve been charged with a DUI, a knowledgeable lawyer may be able to argue for a public intoxication charge. A public intoxication charge is still a criminal charge, but it carries less severe penalties than a DUI. However, it may only be a possibility in certain circumstances.
To learn more about your defense option, call (310) 896-2724 to connect with a DUI lawyer for a free consultation.
Understanding What Constitutes Public Intoxication
Public intoxication is a charge found in California Penal Code Section 647. While many people assume this charge applies only to people under the influence of alcohol, it covers any substance which might impair your cognition. Under this section of the penal code, it also allows peace officers to detain individuals in civil protective custody for up to 72 if they are suspected of public intoxication.
Penal Code Section 647(f) does not make it illegal for an individual to be impaired in public. What the law does say is that a person may be arrested if:
- The intoxication prevents them from being able to care for their own safety or for the safety of others
- The intoxicated individual obstructs or otherwise interferes with the use of public ways
In the context of Penal Code Section 647(f), a public way includes:
- The hallway of building open to the public
- Any other location where the public freely travels
The wording of the law allows the police to arrest individuals for being drunk in their car. Even if the officer has no evidence that you were driving drunk, sitting in a car on the side of a public road is valid grounds for a public intoxication charge.
Penalties for a Public Intoxication Charge
When you are convicted of a public intoxication charge, you face the following penalties:
- Up to six months in county jail
- Up to $1,000 in fines
Depending on the circumstances of the arrest and how you argue the charges, a judge may waive the jail sentence for probation.
Why DUI Lawyers Sometimes See a Public Intoxication Charge as a Victory
Getting a public intoxication conviction is likely going to impact your life. It is a misdemeanor, meaning that it will end up on your criminal record. It also has the $1,000 fine and the possibility of jail time.
However, if faced with a DUI conviction, a lawyer may argue for a public intoxication charge instead. If a peace officer found you intoxicated in your car, he or she may have charged you with a DUI. A DUI conviction carries harsher penalties, particularly if you have been convicted of a drunk driving charge in the past.
In arguing for a public intoxication charge, your lawyer is seeking its lesser penalties. Whereas a DUI will impact your ability to drive and get or keep your job, a public intoxication charge will not impact your driving record. It also means that you will not have a prior DUI on your record, which enhances your possible penalties if you face DUI charges again in the next 10 years.
The penalty period for a public intoxication charge may be shorter. Once you have completed either your jail or probation sentence, you make seek to have the charge expunged from your criminal record.
Speak with a DUI Lawyer About Your Options
Call (310) 896-2724 or fill out the contact form on the side of this page if you have been accused of a DUI in Los Angeles. We can help you connect with a highly skilled DUI lawyer who can help you explore your legal defense option.