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COA: Church not a 'youth program center'

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a man's Class A felony conviction of possession of cocaine, finding he wasn't within 1,000 feet of a "youth program center" because the building is a church running mostly faith-based programs. It's an issue of first impression for Indiana courts.

In Walker Whatley v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0809-CR-808, Walker Whatley argued that Robinson Community Church, which was within 1,000 feet of where he was arrested, isn't considered a youth program center for purposes of Indiana Code Section 35-48-4-6. He claimed the criminal statute and statute defining youth program center are unconstitutionally vague as applied to him. The criminal statute at issue here doesn't punish possession with 1,000 feet of a church.

The issue of felony enhancement for a violation of a "drug free zone" defined as a youth program center hasn't been the subject of an Indiana decision yet, wrote Senior Judge Patrick Sullivan.

Whatley argued because the church bears no identifier to signify it as a "youth program center," the statute provides no basis for individuals to know they are within 1,000 feet of one. He also argued the Indiana statutory scheme relative to youth program centers is fatally flawed because no bright-line rule is presented that would put a person of ordinary intelligence on notice that a person is within 1,000 feet of an unmarked youth program center. But according to Polk v. State, 683 N.E.2d 567 (Ind. 1997), such knowledge or notice isn't required for constitutionality, wrote Senior Judge Sullivan.

Examining cases from other jurisdictions, the appellate court unanimously decided Robinson Community Church was and remains a church and isn't converted into a youth program center by reason of its faith-based activities for young people. The pastor of the church even testified that all of the services and events for children are essentially faith based.

"Bi-weekly Girl Scout troop meetings and mentoring of children by adult members of the congregation were accessory or incidental to the existence and identity as a church. The church was not a youth program center. It remained a church notwithstanding the incidental activities not solely religious in nature," he wrote.

The Court of Appeals reversed Whatley's conviction and remanded for an entry of a conviction as a Class C felony and to sentence him accordingly.

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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