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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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