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Court: No public intox in private driveway

January 1, 2008
The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a defendant's convictions of public intoxication and carrying a handgun without a license because there wasn't enough evidence to prove either charge.

In Cahisa Jones v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0708-CR-658, police responded to a call about suspicious activity at a location in Indianapolis. When the officers arrived, they saw a car parked in a private driveway behind a vacant house. Inside, Jones was lying in the front passenger seat with empty whiskey bottles and beer cans around her. In the backseat, there was a handgun on top of a pile of clothes. The car belonged to Jones' cousin, who had driven it earlier that day.

Jones was convicted of Class B misdemeanor public intoxication and Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license. On appeal, Jones claimed there wasn't enough evidence to convict her on either charge.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Jones and reversed both of her convictions. Judge Michael Barnes wrote that caselaw has held that intoxicated people in private cars may be charged with public intoxication when the person is a passenger in a car stopped by police on a public road, seen on a public road before pulling into a parking lot, or inside a car pulled over on the shoulder of a highway.

The appellate court has refused to uphold a conviction of public intoxication for defendants in a private car in a private driveway, because it's impossible to determine whether the person drove on a public street in order to get to the driveway. Since Jones was on a private driveway, there is insufficient evidence to uphold her public intoxication conviction, he wrote.

The Court of Appeals also cited insufficient evidence as the reason to overturn Jones' conviction of carrying a handgun without a license. The issue is whether Jones constructively possessed it, but there isn't enough evidence to show that is the case. Jones was unaware of the gun, denied it was her gun, and made no incriminating statements, therefore, her conviction should be overturned, Judge Barnes wrote.

In a footnote, Judge Barnes discussed Indiana Code Section 7.1-5-1-3, which defines a person must "be in a public place or a place of public resort in a state of intoxication..." to be charged. He wrote instead of criminalizing people who choose to be passengers in a private vehicle instead of driving, it would be better public policy to encourage people who are intoxicated to ride in a private vehicle without fear of being prosecuted for a crime.
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