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Understanding public intoxication in California

California criminal law treats public intoxication as a misdemeanor. People can be charged with the crime if an officer believes they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and it is considered a type of disorderly conduct.

People can be charged with public intoxication if they appear to be under the influence and are in any public place. The law further indicates that the person must also be in such a state that they are not reasonably able to care for themselves or others. They may also be charged if due to their intoxication, they are preventing others from being able to walk along sidewalks or pass through streets.

If an officer believes someone to be under the influence of alcohol, the officer can take them into civil custody, placing them in a detoxification facility for 72 hours. If a person is sent to a detoxification center, he or she may not later be prosecuted criminally. Officers are not to send people to detox if the officer believes the person is under the influence of drugs, has committed another misdemeanor in addition to public intoxication, has also committed a felony offense or would pose a risk of danger to detox center staff. People in those categories may face criminal prosecution for the public intoxication under the disorderly conduct statute.

If a person is prosecuted for misdemeanor disorderly conduct based on an officer's allegation that he or she was publicly intoxicated, he or she faces possible incarceration upon conviction. Those accused of crimes are legally allowed to defend themselves against the charges. Officers may wrongly believe a person is publicly intoxicated when they are instead suffering from a medical condition. Those who are accused may choose to seek assistance from a criminal defense attorney.

Source: FindLaw, "CAL. PEN. CODE ยง 647 : California Code - Section 647 ", accessed Jan. 13, 2015

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