“Drunk In Public” Intoxication Defense

Is a “Drunk in Public” or “Public Intoxication” Charge a Big Deal?

Yes and no. In the spectrum of criminal offenses, public intoxication is a relatively minor offense. However, it is important to remember that being drunk in public is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor convictions stay on your record. This means it will show up in background checks. This means that if you are applying for a professional license such as a teaching credential or a nurse’s license, you will need to disclose it. Do you want a “drunk in public” conviction to show up on your record?

Diversion Programs

If this is a first offense in Los Angeles County, a qualified criminal defense attorney can sometimes negotiate a diversionary program such as attendance at a certain amount of AA meetings in exchange for a dismissal. Other options may include a reduction to a “disturbing the peace” infraction (which does not need to be disclosed to employers) or another agreed upon lesser charge. However, every case is different. Discuss the facts of your case with a qualified criminal defense attorney to assess your options.

How the Prosecution Proves Public Intoxication (“Drunk In Public”)

To be found guilty of being drunk in public the prosecutor must prove:

  • The defendant was willfully under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or a drug
  • When under the influence defendant was in a public place, AND
  • Defendant was unable to exercise care for his/her safety, OR the safety of others, OR interfered/obstructed/prevented the use of a public way

This law has been otherwise known as “vagrancy” or “drunk and disorderly.” It is one of the ways the government tries to regulate intoxication in public places. It is legal to be drunk in public. However, once a drunk person becomes a danger or a nuisance in a public place this law may come into effect.

What does willfully mean?

One is “willfully” intoxicated when they purposefully and voluntarily use drugs or alcohol. For example, if someone spikes your drink with a drug without your knowledge you are not willfully intoxicated.

What is a public place?

A public place is any place that is open and accessible to anyone who wants to go there (e.g. a shopping mall, park, restaurant, street, or sidewalk). For example, if someone was intoxicated and sleeping on a sidewalk this is enough for a drunk in public charge. The law doesn’t require that you are visible to the public just that you are in a public place.

The law is broad in defining “intoxication.” Use of any drug, or combination of drugs, is sufficient to be drunk in public.

The penalty for being drunk in public is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail or a fine. However, diversionary programs are often available.

How an Experienced Attorney Can Help

If you or a loved one has been arrested for drinking in public or public intoxication, contact Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 for a confidential consultation or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page.

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