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Judges uphold OWI conviction

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The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded today that even though a statute uses the word “and” when saying a driver’s actions, thoughts, and normal control of faculties must be impaired, the state isn’t required to prove all three were impaired in order to get a conviction of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

In Jeffery S. Curtis v. State of Indiana, No. 20A03-1002-CR-110, Jeffery Curtis appealed his Class C misdemeanor conviction of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He was pulled over after taking a turn too wide and failed several field sobriety tests. He smelled of marijuana and blew a 0.0 into the portable breath test. Curtis told the officer he was diabetic and needed some sugar. Curtis declined medical attention and was able to eat and drink at the police station.

Curtis refused to submit to a blood draw and was charged with the offense.

Curtis argued that Indiana Code Section 9-13-2-86 requires that in order for the state to prove a driver is intoxicated, the driver must be under the influence of one of the listed substances and the driver’s actions, thoughts, and normal control of faculties must be impaired. Curtis claimed the tests administered established that only his actions were impaired, but the statute requires showing his thoughts, actions, and normal control of his faculties were impaired.

Although it’s the court’s policy to regard “and” and “or” as used in statutes as being strictly of a conjunctive and disjunctive nature, Prewitt v. State, 878 N.E.2d 184 (Ind. 2007), allows for exceptions, noted Judge Ezra Friedlander. In Prewitt, the high court reasoned that appellate courts are “at liberty to make minor substitutions of words where necessary to give vitality to the legislative intent.”

“We are not often confronted with a situation where application of this ‘widely-accepted rule of statutory construction’ cited with approval in Prewitt is warranted. This is such a case, however, and we apply it here,” wrote Judge Friedlander.

The purpose of the statute is public safety and a person who is unable to control his physical movements poses a considerable danger to others when driving, even though he may be able to carry on a lucid conversation or count backward from 20.

“The plain fact is that impairment of any of the three abilities necessary for the safe operation of a vehicle renders the operation of a vehicle dangerous,” he wrote.

The judges affirmed Curtis’ conviction, finding sufficient evidence to support it.

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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