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There are a variety of criminal charges related to Driving Under the Influence that are available to prosecutors for filing. One of these crimes is commonly known as “drunk in public” under California Penal Code Section 647(f).
Like the majority of DUI offenses, drunk in public is a misdemeanor level offense and can apply to a number of different situations involving excessive alcohol consumption. To prove a drunk in public charge under California Penal Code Section 647(f) a prosecutor must be able to establish one of two scenarios.
A prosecutor can file drunk in public charges where the defendant was so intoxicated that he or she was unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others. An example of this would be a person who gets so intoxicated at a sporting event that he or she is falling all over the place.
Another way that a person can be convicted of drunk in public occurs where he or she interferes with, obstructs or prevents others from using a public byway. An example would be a person who is passed out drunk on the street who blocks a sidewalk and forces people to step over him or walk around his or her body into the street.
Of course, to be guilty of drunk in public the offense must actually occur in a public place. A person cannot be convicted of this offense for being too intoxicated inside his or her own private home. Courts have defined what is considered a public place very broadly and individuals can be charged under California Penal Code Section 647(f) for being passed out in their own car while parked on a public road or street.
There is sometimes an overlap with the DUI laws in this regard. For a person to be charged with driving under the influence, they do not actually have to be observed driving the vehicle. If this was the case, officers would never be able to charge drivers who are passed out drunk in the middle of an intersection or who have been involved in collisions where there are no witnesses. If an officer sees a person stopped while in the driver’s seat of a vehicle and the motor is running, that driver could potentially be charged with driving under the influence under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) and California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b).
However, if there is insufficient circumstantial evidence that the intoxicated person found in a stopped vehicle was actually driving while under the influence, prosecutors may only be able to proceed on the lesser charge of drunk in public.
A conviction for drunk in public does not carry many of the mandatory penalties that a DUI conviction requires, such as installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (“IID”) (in Los Angeles County), mandatory attendance of a drug and alcohol education program and a mandatory driver’s license suspension. Penalties on a first time drunk in public offense are often far less onerous than those imposed for DUI.