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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. "So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)" Well, you know, we're just following in the footsteps of our founders who raped women, raped slaves, raped children, maimed immigrants, sold children, stole property, broke promises, broke apart families, killed natives... You know, good God fearing down home Christian folk! :/

  2. Who gives a rats behind about all the fluffy ranking nonsense. What students having to pay off debt need to know is that all schools aren't created equal and students from many schools don't have a snowball's chance of getting a decent paying job straight out of law school. Their lowly ranked lawschool won't tell them that though. When schools start honestly (accurately) reporting *those numbers, things will get interesting real quick, and the looks on student's faces will be priceless!

  3. Whilst it may be true that Judges and Justices enjoy such freedom of time and effort, it certainly does not hold true for the average working person. To say that one must 1) take a day or a half day off work every 3 months, 2) gather a list of information including recent photographs, and 3) set up a time that is convenient for the local sheriff or other such office to complete the registry is more than a bit near-sighted. This may be procedural, and hence, in the near-sighted minds of the court, not 'punishment,' but it is in fact 'punishment.' The local sheriffs probably feel a little punished too by the overwork. Registries serve to punish the offender whilst simultaneously providing the public at large with a false sense of security. The false sense of security is dangerous to the public who may not exercise due diligence by thinking there are no offenders in their locale. In fact, the registry only informs them of those who have been convicted.

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  5. A common refrain in the comments on this website comes from people who cannot locate attorneys willing put justice over retainers. At the same time the judiciary threatens to make pro bono work mandatory, seemingly noting the same concern. But what happens to attorneys who have the chumptzah to threatened the legal status quo in Indiana? Ask Gary Welch, ask Paul Ogden, ask me. Speak truth to power, suffer horrendously accordingly. No wonder Hoosier attorneys who want to keep in good graces merely chase the dollars ... the powers that be have no concerns as to those who are ever for sale to the highest bidder ... for those even willing to compromise for $$$ never allow either justice or constitutionality to cause them to stand up to injustice or unconstitutionality. And the bad apples in the Hoosier barrel, like this one, just keep rotting.

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