In deciding that a woman’s public intoxication conviction should stand, four Indiana Supreme Court justices declined to reverse her conviction on public policy grounds and found the conviction didn’t violate any constitutional right.
Brenda Moore challenged her conviction of Class B misdemeanor public intoxication. A friend of her brother asked her for a ride to visit a friend, but since Moore had been drinking, she let the friend drive her car and she rode in the passenger seat. The two were pulled over for a nonworking license plate light. The friend didn’t have a valid license, and Moore admitted she couldn’t drive the car because she had consumed alcohol.
The Indiana Court of Appeals was divided on the conviction, with the majority reversing and using Miles v. State, 247 Ind. 423, 425 216 N.E.2d 841, 849 (1966), to support their decision. The majority noted the purpose of the public intoxication statute is to prevent intoxicated people from threatening the safety of others, and under the circumstances of this case, Moore wasn’t intoxicated in a public place under the meaning of Indiana Code 7.1-5-1-3, Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented, believing it was up to the legislature to address this issue.
In Brenda Moore v. State of Indiana, No. 49S04-1101-CR-24. the majority didn’t address the public safety issue, but instead focused on two issues raised by Moore – that the conviction violates public policy and her right to consume alcohol. Moore argued that her conviction “violates the spirit of the public intoxication statute, and the policy behind its enactment” because she didn’t cause any harm or annoyance and didn’t drink and drive. She believed a policy should be enacted to encourage intoxicated people to find rides without fear of being prosecuted for a crime.
The majority declined to reverse on this issue. “Whether conduct proscribed by a criminal law should be excused under certain circumstances on grounds of public policy is a matter for legislative evaluation and statutory revision if appropriate. The judicial function is to apply the laws as enacted by the legislature,” wrote Justice Brent Dickson for the majority in the decision issued June 28.
The majority also quickly dispensed with Moore’s argument that she has a constitutional right to consume alcohol based on Herman v. State, 8 Ind. 545, 558 (1855). Moore didn’t suffer any impingement of any alleged constitutional right to select which beverage to drink. She was subject to the public intoxication statute because of her conduct after consumption, not due to what she drank. Her accountability under the statute doesn’t violate her personal liberty rights under the Indiana Constitution, wrote Justice Dickson.
Justice Robert Rucker dissented, saying he would revisit Miles, in which the Supreme Court had held that a person parked along a highway was in a public place for purposes of the public intoxication statute, and declare it wrongly decided. In State v. Sevier, 20 N.E. 245 (Ind. 1889), the high court declared that the purpose of this statute is to protect the public from the annoyance and deleterious effects that may occur because of the presence of intoxicated people.
“It is difficult to perceive how this purpose is advanced by declaring that the inside of a closed vehicle traveling along a highway is a public place,” he wrote. He believed Moore should not suffer a criminal penalty for taking the responsible action of allowing a sober friend to drive her car while she was too intoxicated to do so.