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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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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. 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.

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