In the early morning hours of Monday, November 26, several reports were made to Santa Clarita deputies about a woman screaming in a Canyon Country wash. When the deputies arrived, they found a drunk, 67-year-old woman drinking wine in the wash. Once she was identified, deputies discovered that she had four outstanding warrants totaling over $200,000 for crimes including driving on a suspended license, DUI, battery on a police officer, and drunk in public. The woman was arrested and is facing a second charge of drunk in public as well.
Drunk in public is covered under California Penal Code 647(f) PC and is described as more than simply being drunk in a public space, which isn’t illegal. In order to be charged with violating PC 647(f), you need to be so drunk that you are unable to exercise care for your personal safety or that of others OR interfere with, obstruct, or otherwise prevent people from using public walkways, sidewalks, or streets. For example, if you drink so much that you end up passing out on the sidewalk, you could be charged with being drunk in public because you’re inhibiting other people from using that space while you’re passed out in it. However, a person who passes out someplace that doesn’t meet the requirement of being a public way, sidewalk or street probably won’t be charged. When it comes to whether or not you are able to exercise care for your own safety or the safety of people around you, a lot is left up to interpretation by police on the scene.
Being drunk in public is a misdemeanor with the possible penalties of summary probation, up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. In some cases, instead of filing charges, police can take the drunk person to an inebriation treatment facility (a.k.a. the “drunk tank”) where he/she can be held for treatment and observation for up to 72-hours. This action is usually referred to as civil protective custody, though unfortunately a lot of cities and towns don’t have one, which means criminal prosecution is the only option.