Boasting balmy weather, great surf, and pristine sand, the beaches in Ventura County are some of the best in the country, attracting thousands of locals and tourists alike. Emma Wood State Beach, Harbor Cove Beach, La Conchita Beach, Marina Park Beach, and San Buenaventura State Beach are among the most popular beaches in Southern California. These and other beaches can get especially crowded – and rowdy – during Fourth of July weekend. In the carnival atmosphere of Independence Day partying, it’s not uncommon for people to get arrested for public intoxication or disorderly conduct and other offenses involving drugs and alcohol. Before you start celebrating Independence Day weekend 2017, it’s a good idea to brush up on Ventura County’s public intoxication laws – and if you do find yourself (or a family member) in legal trouble over the holiday, turn to a Ventura criminal defense lawyer at Bamieh & De Smeth for help.

Can You Get Arrested for Being Drunk in Public on a Beach in California?

The short answer to this question is yes: you can be arrested for public intoxication, not only on a beach, but in any public space. However, a skilled Ventura drug crimes attorney can investigate the circumstances under which you were arrested to determine whether your rights were violated. For example, the police officer who arrested you may have lacked probable cause, or used excessive force in making the arrest.

For now, let’s take a closer look at charges of this nature. Simply being under the influence of alcohol in a public place is not necessarily a crime in and of itself. In order to be charged with a crime, the person must be in violation of California’s public intoxication or “drunk in public” statute, which can be found in the California Penal Code at Cal. Penal Code § 647(f).

Under this statute, a person commits the crime of disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor in California, if he or she “is found in any public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance… or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, controlled substance… in a condition that he or she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of his or her being under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance… or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug… interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way.”

Let’s break that down into more manageable chunks, and dissect the meaning of each. First, the person needs to be “found in any public place,” which California courts have found to mean the following: “‘Common to all or many; general; open to common use,’ and ‘Open to common, or general use, participation, enjoyment, etc.; as, a public place, tax, or meeting.’”

Next, it must be shown that the defendant was “under the influence of [an] intoxicating liquor, any drug, [or] controlled substance,” which means the person was being affected by alcohol and/or controlled substances, including marijuana, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), LSD (acid), methamphetamine, and prescription drugs, such as OxyContin, Xanax, or Vicodin.
Finally, the person needs to either:

  • Be intoxicated to the point where he or she can no longer “exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others” (for example, creating a public safety hazard by staggering into traffic).
  • Be in the way of other people who are trying to use the sidewalk, beach, or other public areas (for example, lying unconscious in a place and way that obstructs the flow of pedestrian traffic or beach-goers).

Only if the prosecutor can prove that all of these elements were present may the defendant be convicted of this offense. However, if the defendant does get convicted of being drunk in public, there can be steep penalties – including jail time. Continue reading for an overview of the penalties for public intoxication in Ventura County.

Fines and Jail Time for Public Intoxication in Ventura, CA

To reiterate, public intoxication in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 647(f) is a form of disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor. The penalty for public intoxication in California may include one or both of the following:

  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • A maximum jail sentence of 6 months

In addition to hefty fines and/or months of incarceration, a defendant who is convicted of being drunk in public may also be placed on probation, which can place strict limitations on daily activities. If the defendant is under the legal drinking age of 21 years, his or her driver’s license may also be suspended for as long as one year. In cases where the defendant doesn’t have a driver’s license, the court may alternately order the California DMV to postpone granting the defendant a license. Californians should also keep in mind that the bail amount for disorderly conduct can be as much as $5,000 in Ventura County.

Arrested Over Fourth of July Weekend? Contact a Ventura Defense Lawyer

Even though misdemeanors are less severe than felonies, the effects of conviction can still be extremely unpleasant, embarrassing, inconvenient, expensive, and disruptive to your daily life. Not only can you be fined, incarcerated, and placed on probation – you also risk gaining a criminal record, which can get in the way of employment opportunities, travel opportunities, and loan eligibility for many years to come.

Hopefully, you and your loved ones will enjoy a safe and hassle-free Fourth of July weekend. However, if you or a family member gets charged with disorderly conduct or related offenses, such as intoxicated driving, the Ventura DUI lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC will be there to help. We have over 22 years of experience handling criminal cases throughout Ventura County and Santa Barbara County. For a free and confidential legal consultation, contact our Southern California criminal defense law firm today at (805) 643-5555.