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COA finds portion of public intoxication statute unconstitutionally vague

February 13, 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals has found that the portion of the public intoxication statute enacted in 2012 that uses the term “annoys” is void for vagueness. As such, it reversed a man’s conviction for public intoxication that was based on annoying behavior.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer Brycen Garner arrested Rodregus Morgan after believing him to be intoxicated. Garner found Morgan’s brother yelling at Morgan at a bus stop after Morgan would not wake up. Garner woke Morgan up to have him leave the shelter and saw his eyes were blood shot and glassy, and he was unsteady.

While Garner completed paperwork, Morgan yelled and continued to be agitated. The state charged him with Class D felony intimidation and Class B misdemeanors public intoxication and disorderly conduct.

The officer identified Morgan’s behavior as “annoying” when he placed him under arrest.

Morgan was convicted of the misdemeanor charges.

On appeal in Rodregus Morgan v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1304-CR-386, he argued that I.C. 7.1-5-1-3, which states that it is a Class B misdemeanor if an individual is intoxicated while in a public place and harasses, annoys or alarms another person, is unconstitutionally vague. The statute doesn’t define “annoys” and there is no objective standard for evaluating what “annoys” constitutes, Morgan claimed.

“ … we find the challenged portion of Indiana’s public intoxication statute to be unconstitutionally vague. Namely, the statute neither requires that a defendant have specifically intended to annoy another, nor does it employ an objective standard to assess whether a defendant’s conduct would be annoying to a reasonable person,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote. “Furthermore, the statute does not mandate that the defendant have been first warned that his behavior was considered annoying conduct. Instead, this section of the statute enables arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement because the illegality of any conduct — no matter how trivial or how substantial — is based solely on the subjective feelings of a particular person at any given time.”

The judges emphasized they are only holding the term “annoying” void for vagueness and removing that from the section does not inhibit the statute’s execution, so the remainder of the section stands.

They also affirmed his conviction for disorderly conduct based on sufficient evidence.
 

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