Friday, October 5, 2007

Is Being Drunk a Crime?

Well, that depends. You can be drunk in places that are not open to the public (such as your apartment, your friend's condo, your grandmother's house, etc.) Now, I didn't say that you would be encouraged to do anything of the sort. In fact, getting drunk is a highly over-rated activity. As far as those high-minded achievers that set out to get drunk...well, the best you can say about them is that they will, most likely, accomplish their mission. That's because it takes a pretty weak stomach, and a complete lack of imagination (as in none) to have any difficulty getting there. And, as they probably know, they're going to regret it; at least temporarily. Yes, I'm talking about the hangover. It's nature's way of punishing them for what is essentially a bad all-around idea. The depressing truth is that the euphoria associated with drinking a large quantity of alcohol lasts for only a short while compared to what will follow. In many cases, blackouts, belligerence, sexually aggressive/inappropriate behavior, vomit, passing out, and hang-overs will be the heavy price you will pay for that initial feeling of artificial contentment with life, your surroundings, and your company. But I digress...back to Grandma's house... Whether it is a crime to be drunk outside of your grandmother's house in California is largely up to the police officer. And, no, I'm not saying that "it's his word against yours". Not this time. What I am saying is that the police officer who believes someone is so intoxicated (in public) that they cannot care for themselves may arrest them criminally (647(f) PC)) or civilly (647(g) PC)). Penal Code section 647(g) reads as follows:

(g) When a person has violated subdivision (f), a peace officer, if he or she is reasonably able to do so, shall place the person, or cause him or her to be placed, in civil protective custody. The person shall be taken to a facility, designated pursuant to Section 5170 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, for the 72-hour treatment and evaluation of inebriates. A peace officer may place a person in civil protective custody with that kind and degree of force which would be lawful were he or she effecting an arrest for a misdemeanor without a warrant. No person who has been placed in civil protective custody shall thereafter be subject to any criminal prosecution or juvenile court proceeding based on the facts giving rise to this placement. This subdivision shall not apply to the following persons:
(1) Any person who is under the influence of any drug, or under the combined influence of intoxicating liquor and any drug.
(2) Any person who a peace officer has probable cause to believe has committed any felony, or who has committed any misdemeanor inaddition to subdivision (f).
(3) Any person who a peace officer in good faith believes will attempt escape or will be unreasonably difficult for medical personnel to control.

So, you ask, if you fit within the above criteria, why did you get taken to jail and why are you now charged with crime? Well, one question to ask is whether there is a "sobering center" facility in the immediate area with a contract with that municipality to offer a safe (alcohol free) environment for you to hang out while you inch toward sobriety; and, no, it doesn't usually take 72 hours before they will decide to let you go. Four to six hours is more ordinary. In the City of Santa Barbara, there is such a facility. In other parts of South Santa Barbara County there is not. Accordingly, if you are arrested in Isla Vista for Public Intoxication (a nightly occurrence), you are going to jail. There is talk of installing a sobering center in Isla Vista, but until that happens, being drunk in public in Isla Vista (and other parts of Santa Barbara County) is a crime.

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