Disorderly Conduct and Public Intoxication

Crimes of disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and disturbing the peace will be discussed in this article. Disorderly Conduct is a catch-all crime that involves some offensive to other people or property behavior or some other disruptive activity.Public intoxication also known as “drunk and disorderly” and drunk in public, involves some overt displays of drunkenness.

Criminal statutes in California include public intoxication as one kind of behavior that can be considered disorderly conduct.  Disorderly conduct may or may not involve consumption of alcohol or drugs. The degree of intoxication is not critical for disorderly conduct. But alcohol is a key factor in such crimes as DUI or DWI, underage drinking or minor in possession.

What is Disorderly Conduct?

When a neighbor or a passer-by is disturbed some much that that person calls the police on someone, it is no necessary a disorderly conduct yet, but it may be.  Disorderly conduct laws allow police officers to arrest people whose public behavior is disruptive or offensive or whose actions interfere with other people’s enjoyment of public spaces.  Any kind of disruptive conduct – including loitering, fighting, being unreasonably noisy, and otherwise disturbing the peace – can fall under the definition of disorderly conduct depending on how the crime is defined in the state’s criminal statutes.


Disorderly Conduct State in California

California’s Penal Code (Section 647):

  1. Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor:

(a) Who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view.

(b) Who solicits or who agrees to engage in or who engages in any act of prostitution…

(c) Who accosts other persons in any public place or in any place open to the public for the purpose of begging or soliciting alms.

(d) Who loiters in or about any toilet open to the public for the purpose of engaging in or soliciting any lewd or lascivious or any unlawful act.

(e) Who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it.

(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.

Public Intoxication Laws

Under California Penal Code 647f, drunk in public is a misdemeanor offense. Drunk in public does not mean that the person had a glass of wine or a couple of bottles of beer and is walking in a park. There has to be more, otherwise a lot of people would get arrested for public intoxication every day.  To be convicted of 647f in California, the person must be willfully intoxicated to the extent that he or she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or that of others and he or she is in a public place. The level of intoxication must be such that the person can indulge in acts that could potentially harm the person, result in harm to others, or cause damage to property. A person can also be convicted of 647f if that person is willfully intoxicated in a public place and as a result of the intoxication, interferes, obstructs or prevents others from using the street, sidewalk or any other public way.

Public intoxication laws are meant to protect the safety of someone who is intoxicated, and more generally protect society’s interest in unobstructed and safe use of sidewalks, parks, shopping malls, restaurants and virtually any space outside one’s home that is open to the public.

Punishment for Disorderly Conduct and Public Intoxication

In most states, disorderly conduct and public intoxication are considered misdemeanors, and are punishable by fines, alcohol education programs, community service, probation, and jail sentencing of less than one year of incarceration — although any jail sentence that’s handed down is usually much shorter, and in many cases incarceration can be avoided.

The sentencing and punishment for a public intoxication conviction under California Penal Code 647(f) is up to 180 days in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1000.00. If the circumstances are serious and it is not the first time for the offender, a conviction can result in mandatory jail time, probation, attendance at self-help meetings or community service.

There are many legal defenses to public intoxication. One of them is Involuntary Intoxication. Public intoxication charges require a defendant to willfully consume alcohol.  Consumption must be done willingly or done on purpose.  Those who somehow involuntary consumed alcohol either by force, duress, or fear cannot be convicted for that. The involuntary factor intervened upon a defendant’s ability to comply with the law.  For that reason, the offender may not be punished for public intoxication. There are some other legal defenses that experienced criminal attorneys may use depending on a situation.

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