Most states have laws against public intoxication. In California, this law is not only used against individuals who are drunk in public. It is used whenever someone is so intoxicated that they cannot control themselves, or act without care for other people around them. This can and does include causing problems in public roadways.
Because of the flexibility of this law, it’s sometimes used as a plea bargain for DUI cases. Reducing your DUI to a “drunk in public” charge comes with substantial benefits.
What counts as “drunk in public”?
Being drunk in public is a misdemeanor crime under California Penal Code 647(f). Officially, it punishes any intoxicated behavior that puts people at risk or interferes with the use of sidewalks, roads and other public pathways.
In practice, this law would be used when:
- A loud intoxicated person is deterring people from walking past him on a sidewalk, forcing them to go around
- An intoxicated person is acting aggressive or physically intimidating others
- Someone is passed out from alcohol or drugs on a sidewalk, blocking it
- An intoxicated person is sitting on a window ledge, where they are in danger of falling
- Someone who is intoxicated stands in the street, blocking traffic
However, even if you didn’t do any of these things, public intoxication can still be a potential plea bargain in your DUI case. It is not the most common plea deal—most prosecutors will offer a wet reckless charge instead—but in some cases it fits. It’s mostly only used if it’s clear that you were intoxicated but not so clear that you were driving.
If a drunk in public deal is offered, it has huge advantages over a DUI charge.
Why is public intoxication better than DUI?
A DUI is a serious, driving-related criminal offense that can alter your life. With a DUI:
- Your drivers license is suspended
- There is a mandatory jail sentence
- Fines and fees easily go into the thousands of dollars
- You will face 3-5 years of probation and lengthy, court-ordered traffic classes
- Your DUI costs “points” on your driving record, and it will affect your insurance and potentially your future employment
Drunk in public charges do not carry any of these downsides. While also a misdemeanor crime, public intoxication is not a driving-related offense, so it doesn’t result in points and your license cannot be taken away.
Most importantly, DUI charges are “priorable.” That means that a second DUI charge carries much, much higher penalties than a first DUI. But being drunk in public does not count as a DUI charge at all, so if you are ever arrested for DUI again, you escape the extra penalties.
What are the penalties for being drunk in public in Los Angeles?
Public intoxication does carry penalties, including:
- Maximum of 6 months in jail
- Fines up to $1,000
- An informal probation period
However, the costs are typically lower than they would be with DUI, the probation period is much shorter, and there may be no jail time at all.
How do I get my DUI reduced to a drunk in public charge?
Public intoxication is not a common plea deal for most DUIs. However, it may be offered in certain cases:
- You were found passed out in your car. This is not technically illegal, but if you are parked on the side of a roadway (rather than a parking lot or at home) it can turn into a DUI charge. Prosecutors often have a hard time proving this kind of case, so may offer public intoxication as a deal.
- You have reasonable grounds to argue you weren’t driving. The “no driving” defense is a powerful defense in certain cases, especially if officers arrested you after the fact (not while you were in your vehicle). In these cases, you may be offered public intoxication as a deal.
All plea bargains require skilled negotiation against the prosecutor. If you do not have a DUI lawyer, the prosecutor may not be willing to bargain at all—they will assume they can convict you in court. Having a lawyer is the first and most important step to having your DUI charge reduced.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.