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Judges decline to find OWI statute unconstitutional

February 26, 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a man’s claim that the statute proscribing the operation of a vehicle with a Schedule I or II controlled substance violates the Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Indiana Constitution.

Chad E. Hucker was charged with Class C misdemeanors operating a vehicle while intoxicated and operating a vehicle with a Schedule I or II controlled substance. He was pulled over by police after a patron at a liquor store reported Hucker may be driving while intoxicated. Hucker told officers his seemingly intoxicated behavior may be a result of recently taking his prescription Xanax.

At his jury trial, Hucker testified he had a prescription for the drug but admitted to taking it in excess of the recommended dosage on the day of the incident.

In Chad E. Hucker v. State of Indiana, 35A02-1307-CR-575, Hucker challenged the second prong of the Collins test regarding Section 23: The preferential treatment must be uniformly applicable and equally available to all persons similarly situated. He argued that members within the identified class are treated unequally because criminal exposure under the statute varies depending on the dosage of drug taken, whether an individual is a chronic user, the nature of the metabolite, and other arguments.

“The second prong of the Collins test requires that a statute must apply equally and uniformly to all persons who share those characteristics that are the basis of the classification,” Judge Margret Robb wrote. “Assuming it is proper under Section 23 to create classifications based on persons who drive with a schedule I or II controlled substance and persons who do not, Indiana Code section 9-30-5-1(c) is not unconstitutional.”

He also argued that the statute treats as identical a number of controlled substances that have varying effects on the body. Robb noted this is a fair point, but one that is better placed before the General Assembly.

“The disparate treatment to persons who operate a vehicle with a schedule I or schedule II controlled substance is reasonably related to inherent characteristics among those persons — namely, the usage of those controlled substances causes impairment and the amount necessary to cause impairment is not easily quantifiable. Given the ‘substantial deference’ we must provide the General Assembly in generating such classifications, we cannot find the statute unconstitutional under Section 23.”

 

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