Today’s discussion involves public intoxication and drinking in public laws which are enforced in Los Angeles communities. While this type of conduct is often decriminalized in states outside of California, Los Angeles law enforcement agencies use these statutes liberally to “keep the peace” and “stabilize” escalating circumstances. Importantly, if you are accused of any alcohol-related offense in Los Angeles, it is important to have attorney representation.
So, what are some of common drunk in public and alcohol consumption laws?
A popular enforcement tool of Los Angeles area police agencies is Penal Code section 647(f). Essentially, this state law prohibits public intoxication to the degree that a person is unable to care for him or herself, and also prohibits intoxicated persons from creating an “interference” with street or sidewalk traffic. Penal Code section 647(f) is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of $1000+ assessments, though many cases are resolved without additional custody time or extremely high fines. However, at court, it isn’t unusual in drunk in public cases for the prosecutor to recommend probation and a misdemeanor conviction.
Unfortunately, there is no “bright-line rule” which delineates when a person has crossed over the legal alcohol limit and becomes “intoxicated.” Arrests for PC 647(f) do not typically result in blood alcohol measurement, field sobriety tests, or other toxicology screening. Arrests are subject to “judgment calls” in the field by responding officers. Since responding officers are not generally familiar with the “intoxicated person,” they are also likely lacking in familiarity with the person’s behavior, mannerisms, and usual appearance. Thus, youthful exuberance combined with some alcohol consumption may be mistaken by police for drunk in public. These are issues and defenses for a Los Angeles “Drunk in Public” Attorney to develop in more detail.
Penal Code section 647(f) investigations are commonly initiated when an intoxicated person becomes disruptive in a public setting, such as a bar or restaurant. Patrons or employees usually first try to have the intoxicated person’s friends remove him or her from the premises. If this option is ineffective and the person continues “disorderly conduct” in the presence of other patrons, the police are then called in.
When police arrive at a “Drunk in Public” call, their primary goal is to calm the intoxicated person, and remove him or her from the location. Police officers have some discretion in this process. If the intoxicated person is extremely cooperative and apologetic, police may send the person home in a cab or home with friends. If the police believe that potential continuing risks exist to either the drunken person or members of the public, the police will place the person under arrest for a violation of Penal Code section 647(f).
Police have discretion to deescalate the arrest, thereafter, if they choose to do so. Police may let a person “sleep it off” at the police station, and then release him or her 8 or 10 hours later without criminal charges. This type of release, pursuant to Penal Code section 849(b) then changes the status of the time in custody to a “detention,” rather than an arrest, in essence “decriminalizing” the conduct. An 849(b) incident does not require a court appearance or prosecution, thereafter.
A more common approach in 647(f) cases is for police to issue a citation for the person to appear in court to answer for the criminal allegation. The police report of the incident, copy of the citation, as well as documentation of the arrestee’s criminal history is then provided to the City Attorney or District Attorney for review. The prosecuting agency then has the choice of filing the case, rejecting the case, or diverting the case to a Court Alternative. It is quite common for filing prosecutors to proceed with criminal charges and figure out a solution later.
Thus, it can be very important to have prompt representation from a Public Intoxication Lawyer in Los Angeles who is familiar with all possible options, ranging from early intervention to in-court solutions.
When I represent someone accused of Penal Code section 647(f), I explore all early intervention alternatives which may exist, as well as prepare for court. In some cases I have my clients attend A/A Meetings prior to the court date; this may alleviate concerns of the judge and prosecutor about future similar problems. Cases/solutions in court related to alcohol can have substantial consequences, including DMV actions, negative immigration or travel restrictions, and risks to potential future employment. Thus, it is important to seek representation from an attorney familiar with the specific charges and solutions which may exist.
Los Angeles Municipal Code section 41.27
Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.27 prohibits drinking in public in the city of Los Angeles. Surprisingly, Los Angeles Police vigorously pursue these cases, and often issue misdemeanor court citations pursuant to this violation. An effective defense attorney will likely lobby the local prosecutor to consider Pre-Court solutions, such as APPS. If the case is filed in court, it is extremely important to have an attorney carefully explore the case. I have seen courts accept guilty pleas & fine payments on municipal code cases, with little or no explanation of the consequences of doing so. Many people inadvertently/unknowingly plead guilty to misdemeanor charges, which can create significant future consequences.
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