Sundance v. Municipal Court

Citation729 P.2d 80,232 Cal.Rptr. 814,42 Cal.3d 1101
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Decision Date31 December 1986
Parties, 729 P.2d 80 Robert SUNDANCE et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. The MUNICIPAL COURT for the Los Angeles Judicial District of Los Angeles County et al., Defendants and Respondents; The PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest and Respondent. L.A. 31785.

Timothy B. Flynn, Carlyle W. Hall, Jr., Lucas Guttentag, Joel R. Reynolds, Fredric D. Woocher, Michael S. Gendler, Eric Havian and Bruce Williamson, Los Angeles, for plaintiffs and appellants.

Fred Okrand, Los Angeles, Mark Aaronson, Margaret C. Crosby, Alan L. Schlosser, and Amitai Schwartz, Washington, D.C., Peter Barton Hutt and James A. Toupin, Washington, D.C., as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiffs and appellants.

John H. Larson, County Counsel, Philip S. Miller, Deputy County Counsel, Ira Reiner, City Atty., James H. Pearson, Sr. Asst. City Atty., and Denise M. Beaudry, Deputy City Atty., Los Angeles, for defendants and respondents.

George Agnost, City Atty. (San Francisco), and Kathryn A. Pennypacker, Deputy City Atty., as amici curiae on behalf of defendants and respondents.

No appearance for Real Party in Interest and respondent.


This action, filed by four public inebriates and one taxpayer, challenges California's drunk in public statute (Pen.Code, § 647, subd. (f) 1) on numerous Eighth Amendment and due process grounds. 2 Plaintiffs seek an order enjoining enforcement of section 647(f) in light of many alleged constitutional abuses attendant upon enforcement of the statute in Los Angeles County. They also seek an order mandating referral of all public inebriates to civil detoxification centers in lieu of criminal prosecution. (See § 647, subd. (ff).) 3 Finally, plaintiffs argue that section 647(f) must be enjoined as a waste of public funds.

Section 647(f) provides that every person who is "found in any public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor ... in such 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 ... interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way" is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. However, public inebriates arrested under this provision can be diverted into treatment facilities as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Under section 647(ff) "[w]hen a person has violated [section 647(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. Such person shall be taken to a facility, designated pursuant to Section 5170 of the Welfare and Institutions Code,[ 4 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 such placement." 5


Excluding traffic arrests, violation of section 647(f) is the highest volume crime in Los Angeles County. 6 In 1975, the year in which the complaint in this case was filed, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) made 50,595 section 647(f) arrests. These arrests constituted 32.1 percent of the LAPD's total misdemeanor arrests for that year. The relevant statistics for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) were 9,875 section 647(f) arrests, constituting 28.4 percent of the LASD's annual misdemeanor arrests.

Because of the high volume of section 647(f) arrests, and because such arrests are generally made during a "sweep" of a "skid row" area, law enforcement agencies have developed specialized methods of arresting and processing public inebriates. The LAPD utilizes a "Short Form Arrest Report" in making such arrests.

The arrest report consists of a form upon which the arresting officer checks off the "objective symptoms" of drunkenness observed during the arrest. The narrative portion of such reports generally reads as follows: "Defendant observed drunk in public unable to care for himself." A carbon copy of the arrest report serves as the misdemeanor complaint filed against the section 647(f) arrestee.

Although the arresting officers work in pairs, only one officer signs the arrest report and the name of the other officer is not noted on the form. Similarly, the names of civilian witnesses are not included on the arrest report. No physical evidence, such as alcoholic beverage containers, is preserved. Section 647(f) arrestees do not undergo field sobriety examinations or chemical tests of intoxication.

The LASD does not utilize short form arrest reports in making section 647(f) arrests. However, like the LAPD, the LASD does not preserve physical evidence or note the names of percipient witnesses. Similarly, the LASD does not conduct field sobriety examinations or chemical tests of intoxication.

The LAPD typically uses police step-vans or "B-wagons" to transport section 647(f) arrestees to its Parker Center jail, where most section 647(f) arrestees are detained. The vans consist of windowless, closed, steel compartments equipped with wooden benches and rear doubledoors for loading passengers.

The reasonable capacity of such vans is 10 to 12 upright passengers. Police policy allows only 10 passengers per van unless the van is summoned to pick up additional passengers on its return trip to the jail. Nevertheless, B-wagons often arrive at the jail carrying 14 to 15 passengers. No prisoner is allowed to remain in B-wagon transport for more than one hour.

Many section 647 arrestees transported in B-wagons are unable to care for themselves. However, there is no way to secure such passengers within the van to keep them from being jostled and thrown about in transit. Therefore, arrestees sometimes arrive at the jail with injuries caused by B-wagon transport. In addition, arrestees are occasionally injured as a result of fights between B-wagon passengers during transport.

Section 647(f) arrestees picked up by the LAPD commonly suffer from medical problems upon arrival at the Parker Center jail. Withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, nausea, and vomiting are common. No medical screening is performed upon arrestees when they arrive at the jail. Only those with obvious medical need are inspected.

Upon arrival at the jail, section 647(f) arrestees are processed through booking, which includes a search, a property inventory, an identification interview, and fingerprinting. During these procedures the arrestees are held in various holding tanks and processing areas, none of which have beds.

After booking, and until taken to court or released, the arrestees are held in drunk tanks which have a single toilet, drinking fountain, and wash basin. The tanks, which hold a maximum of 40 prisoners, are often filled to capacity. The tanks have no beds or other furnishings, and arrestees are given no pillows or other bedding. 7 Showers are rarely provided. 8

There are two statutory alternatives to criminal processing of section 647(f) arrestees. The first is referral to a 72-hour civil detoxification facility. If there is room in the civil detoxification facility the public inebriate is taken there immediately after arrest, pursuant to the mandate of section 647(ff). However, there is only one such facility in Los Angeles County.

Because of its limited capacity, the civil detoxification center can accept a maximum of 20 referrals a day. Only 9,629 persons were referred to the facility in 1975 and 1976, as compared to the 105,658 persons who were arrested and booked by the LAPD for violation of section 647(f) during those years. The decision whether to refer a public inebriate to the civil detoxification facility depends upon the vacancy rate of the facility, not upon the status or condition of the arrestee.

The second alternative to criminal processing is release pursuant to section 849, subdivision (b)(2). 9 This statute allows a police officer to release an arrestee from custody if the arrest was made without a warrant and the arrestee "was arrested for intoxication only, and no further proceedings are desirable." Prior to July 8, 1977, section 849(b)(2) was routinely utilized only when the jail facilities were full. The arrestees who had been held the longest were released to make room for new prisoners.

On July 8, 1977, the LAPD promulgated Special Order 23, which set forth a new policy for release of section 647(f) arrestees. Under this new policy all section 647(f) arrestees are to be released after a minimum period of incarceration of four hours, unless there is a particular reason for denying release. After implementation of Special Order 23, more than 90 percent of all section 647(f) arrests resulted in "kick-outs" under section 849(b)(2).

All section 647(f) arrestees who are not referred to the civil detoxification facility or released pursuant to section 849(b)(2) remain in custody unless they post the standard $50 bail or qualify for "own recognizance" release. The majority of these section 647(f) arrestees are in custody at the time of arraignment. For example, in 1976, 84 percent of the section 647(f) arrestees booked into the Parker Center jail remained in custody until arraignment. Of the 16 percent released, 14 percent posted bail and 2 percent were released on their own recognizance.

Section 647(f) arrestees who remain in custody are transported to the metropolitan arraignment court and incarcerated in a large holding tank pending arraignment. Some of the arrestees are still intoxicated at the time of arraignment and others are suffering various symptoms of withdrawal.


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