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High court divided on public intoxication charge

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In deciding that a woman’s public intoxication conviction should stand, four Indiana Supreme Court justices declined to reverse her conviction on public policy grounds and found the conviction didn’t violate any constitutional right.

Brenda Moore challenged her conviction of Class B misdemeanor public intoxication. A friend of her brother asked her for a ride to visit a friend, but since Moore had been drinking, she let the friend drive her car and she rode in the passenger seat. The two were pulled over for a nonworking license plate light. The friend didn’t have a valid license, and Moore admitted she couldn’t drive the car because she had consumed alcohol.

The Indiana Court of Appeals was divided on the conviction, with the majority reversing and using Miles v. State, 247 Ind. 423, 425 216 N.E.2d 841, 849 (1966), to support their decision. The majority noted the purpose of the public intoxication statute is to prevent intoxicated people from threatening the safety of others, and under the circumstances of this case, Moore wasn’t intoxicated in a public place under the meaning of Indiana Code 7.1-5-1-3, Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented, believing it was up to the legislature to address this issue.

In Brenda Moore v. State of Indiana, No. 49S04-1101-CR-24. the majority didn’t address the public safety issue, but instead focused on two issues raised by Moore – that the conviction violates public policy and her right to consume alcohol. Moore argued that her conviction “violates the spirit of the public intoxication statute, and the policy behind its enactment” because she didn’t cause any harm or annoyance and didn’t drink and drive. She believed a policy should be enacted to encourage intoxicated people to find rides without fear of being prosecuted for a crime.

The majority declined to reverse on this issue. “Whether conduct proscribed by a criminal law should be excused under certain circumstances on grounds of public policy is a matter for legislative evaluation and statutory revision if appropriate. The judicial function is to apply the laws as enacted by the legislature,” wrote Justice Brent Dickson for the majority in the decision issued June 28.

The majority also quickly dispensed with Moore’s argument that she has a constitutional right to consume alcohol based on Herman v. State, 8 Ind. 545, 558 (1855). Moore didn’t suffer any impingement of any alleged constitutional right to select which beverage to drink. She was subject to the public intoxication statute because of her conduct after consumption, not due to what she drank. Her accountability under the statute doesn’t violate her personal liberty rights under the Indiana Constitution, wrote Justice Dickson.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, saying he would revisit Miles, in which the Supreme Court had held that a person parked along a highway was in a public place for purposes of the public intoxication statute, and declare it wrongly decided. In State v. Sevier, 20 N.E. 245 (Ind. 1889), the high court declared that the purpose of this statute is to protect the public from the annoyance and deleterious effects that may occur because of the presence of intoxicated people.

“It is difficult to perceive how this purpose is advanced by declaring that the inside of a closed vehicle traveling along a highway is a public place,” he wrote. He believed Moore should not suffer a criminal penalty for taking the responsible action of allowing a sober friend to drive her car while she was too intoxicated to do so.

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  • car's not public
    how about this. your car is not a public space. contrary to what the police pretend and the courts want to maintain. people have an expectation of privacy in their cars that is flouted by the government all the time. yet another twisted result because of it. understand this right and its the end of story.

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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