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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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