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Justice argues majority opinion does not give clear guidance going forward

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The Indiana Supreme Court by a vote of 3-2 upheld a man’s Class B misdemeanor public intoxication conviction, with the dissenting justices concerned that the majority opinion “muddies the judicial water.”

Tin Thang was arrested in December 2012 on suspicion of public intox after an officer observed in him a gas station smelling of alcohol with bloodshot eyes. A car was in the station lot that was not there when the officer entered the gas station, and inside was only Thang, the officer and the attendant. The keys to the car were found on Thang and the car belonged to him.

Thang does not dispute that he was intoxicated in a public place, but he argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he endangered himself or anyone else. The justices granted transfer to address whether the proof of the endangerment element outlined in the statute for Class B misdemeanor public intox can be established by reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence. The justices answered that in the affirmative.

The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Brent Dickson, rejected Thang’s argument that Moore v. State, 634 N.E. 2d 825 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994), prohibits a fact-finder from drawing an inference from circumstantial evidence that a defendant was not on a public street.

“In the present case, the undisputed evidence established the sudden presence of the defendant and his vehicle at a gas station, his intoxication, his possession of the car keys, and the absence of any other persons, thus necessitating removal of the car by towing. From these facts, it is a reasonable inference that the defendant had arrived at the gas station by driving his automobile on the public streets while intoxicated, thereby endangering his or another person’s life,” Dickson wrote in Tin Thang v. State of Indiana, 49S04-1402-CR-72.  

In his dissent, Justice Steven David agreed that reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence could lead a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that Thang drove his car to the gas station on a public street.

“But because I believe the relevant criminal statute requires the State to prove more than just this, and because I feel that it failed to do so, I cannot join the majority,” he wrote, keying in the words “thereby endangering his or another person’s life” written in I.C. 7.1-5-1-3(a). Justice Robert Rucker joined David’s dissent.

Thang arrived at the gas station somehow, but did he drive safely and obey the traffic laws, David questioned, or did he swerve across a fog line or nearly drive into a telephone pole?

“The decision today effectively vitiates the endangerment element from the public intoxication statute under these circumstances, as the State need no longer present any evidence beyond the fact of the defendant’s intoxicated driving of a vehicle. Thang v. State will be the guidepost that affirms all such convictions on sufficient review.”
 

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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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