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COA reverses public intox conviction based on potential danger

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The state’s claim that a man’s public intoxication conviction should stand because of possible danger he faced if he left an apartment complex while intoxicated was rejected by the Indiana Court of Appeals Thursday because the argument was merely speculative.

Police responded to two calls at an apartment complex indicating that Clyde Davis and another man had been fighting. After the first call, police noted Davis had been drinking, but concluded he could safely walk home. But Davis didn’t leave and the next morning, police came back after the second call and found Davis standing outside the building in a grassy common area. Police believed he was extremely intoxicated and concerned that if he tried to walk home, he could be struck by a car on the busy road. Officers arrested him and he was charged with and convicted of Class B misdemeanor public intoxication.

Davis argued that the state failed to prove he endangered the lives of himself or others for purposes of the public intoxication statute, as recently amended. The appeals judges reviewed several cases that deal with the new statute, including the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Thang v. State, to determine the common thread in these cases is past or present conduct by the defendant did or did not place life in danger.

“While the statute does not require that actual harm or injury occur, some action by the defendant constituting endangerment of the life of the defendant or another person must be shown. This is true even where an officer testifies that the defendant was a danger to himself or others,” Judge James Kirsch wrote. “Were it otherwise, citizens could be convicted for possible, future conduct. The policy behind the current public intoxication statute is to encourage intoxicated persons to avoid danger by walking or catching a ride rather than driving. Although we acknowledge that intoxicated persons may also create danger by walking in public places, that danger must have manifested itself in order for the State to obtain a conviction.”

In this case, there was no evidence Davis was in danger. The state argued that he was in danger of being struck by a car if he left the apartment complex, but that is just speculative and not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The State may not convict Davis for what would or could have happened,” Kirsch wrote in Clyde Davis v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1311-CR-938.



 

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  1. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

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