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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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