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Judges disagree on public intox conviction

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a woman's conviction of public intoxication, but the judge dissenting in the case believed the majority reweighed the credibility of the witnesses and their testimony to reach their decision.

In Melissa Christian v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0803-CR-272, Court of Appeals Chief Judge John Baker and Judge Elaine Brown reversed Melissa Christian's conviction of public intoxication, citing insufficient evidence. Police found Christian attempting to unlock a car with the wrong key in the driveway of her friend's house.

Christian only appealed the determination that she was located in a public place when arrested. The state described the driveway as "an area that people in the neighborhood area use to park" but the evidence presented at trial doesn't support the claims, wrote Judge Brown. The state presented no evidence the parking area was used by the public in general rather than just by the residents nearby.

Citing previous caselaw on the reversal of public intoxication convictions, the majority reversed Christian's conviction for insufficient evidence.

Judge Paul Mathias dissented, writing that the appellate court's role is not to reweigh the credibility of the witnesses and their testimony. Christian argued the area she was at was a driveway but police testified it wasn't a driveway, but more of a parking area off the street where people can pull in and park perpendicular to the flow of traffic.

In the cases the majority cited, the defendants were asleep in a vehicle in either a private driveway or private lane, but in this case, Christian was standing outside of her vehicle in a parking area accessible to the neighboring public, the judge wrote.

Judge Mathias also wrote that if the majority's definition of a public place becomes law, it would be difficult to distinguish why an apartment complex parking lot or common parking area of a condominium complex would be a "public place," which can't be the intent of the law.

"Perhaps we might have made a different arresting decision than Officer Siefker, or come to a different conclusion than Judge Collins; perhaps not. But that is not our standard of review. Our constitutional role is to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that Christian was guilty of public intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt," he wrote. "We are not permitted to reweigh the evidence or substitute our judgment for that of Officer Siefker or the trier of fact, Judge Collins."

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  1. 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.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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