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Court splits on public intoxication conviction

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split today on whether a woman’s conviction of Class B misdemeanor public intoxication should be reversed because she wasn’t in a public place within the meaning of Indiana Code at the time police stopped her car.

Brenda Moore had been drinking at her sister’s house. A friend wanted a ride, but Moore said she was unable to drive but if the friend had a valid license, he could drive her car. Moore rode with him in the passenger seat and fell asleep when police pulled the car over for a non-working license plate light. The friend didn’t have a valid license and Moore admitted she was too intoxicated to drive the car. She was arrested and charged with public intoxication and later convicted.

The issue that split the appellate court in Brenda Moore v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1001-CR-46, was whether there was sufficient evidence to support Moore’s conviction as defined in Indiana Code Section 7.1-5-1-3, which defines public intoxication as “being in a public place or a place of public resort in a state of intoxication caused by … use of alcohol.”

The judges relied on Miles v. State, 247 Ind. 423, 425 216 N.E.2d 847, 849 (1966), in which the Indiana Supreme Court held a man who was slumped over his steering wheel in his running tractor-trailer cab parked on the side of the highway was in a public place for purposes of the public intoxication statute.

The majority found the differences between Miles and the instant case to be significant and didn’t believe Miles compels the result that Moore was in a public place. The majority of cases following Miles have had intoxicated people in parked or stopped cars that were in places accessible to the public, wrote Judge Margret Robb.

“Here, Moore’s vehicle was being driven upon a public road by a sober driver and was causing no danger or impediment to the traveling public. The facts of this case are sufficiently different from the facts of previous cases that we believe neither Miles nor the legislature’s lack of action in the wake thereof are binding upon us,” she wrote.

Judge Robb also wrote that the purpose of the statute is to prevent intoxicated people from bothering or threatening the safety of others and that objective wouldn’t be frustrated by excluding the circumstances of this case from the definition public intoxication. She noted there are times when someone riding in a car could be charged with public intoxication, but under the circumstances of the case, Moore wasn’t intoxicated in a public place within the meaning of the statute.

In her dissent, Judge Nancy Vaidik said as much as she may disagree with criminalizing riding as a passenger in a private vehicle on a public road in a state of intoxication, that it’s up to the legislature to address this.

“Given Miles and the legislature’s lack of response to it, I believe that unless and until our legislature makes changes to Indiana Code section 7.1-5-1-3, Moore was in a public place. I therefore would affirm her conviction for public intoxication,” she wrote.





 

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