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Justices differ on defining 'youth program center'

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Two Indiana Supreme Court justices objected to affirming a man’s drug sentence for possession within 1,000 feet of a “youth program center” because the church that ran the programs wasn’t easily identifiable as regularly running programs for kids.

Justices Theodore Boehm and Robert Rucker dissented from the majority in Walker Whatley v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0908-CR-379, because they didn’t believe a casual observer would know that the church ran youth-oriented programs. The dissenting justices agreed with the majority that there are many buildings that are easily identifiable as regular providers of programs or services for children.

“But the statute under the majority’s rationale here looks only to the activities conducted in the structure to determine whether it is a youth program center, and not to whether a casual observer could readily discern that the structure provides those services,” wrote Justice Boehm. “This reasoning would make a youth program center of every residence housing a Cub Scout weekly meeting.”


The majority held that it didn’t matter that the programs offered by Robinson Community Church were of religious content or that the church has other uses for the building. The statute doesn’t explicitly or implicitly place any limitations on the content of programs offered or why children are present, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan for the majority.

Walker Whatley was arrested in his home on a warrant in an unrelated case when police discovered he had a little over 3 grams of cocaine in his pocket. Because he lived nearly 800 feet from Robinson Community Church, the charge was elevated a Class A felony, of which he was convicted.

The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned his conviction on the grounds the church didn’t qualify as a “youth program center” under Indiana Code Section 35-48-4-6 because its youth programs didn’t change its status as a church. They ordered that the conviction be entered as a Class C felony and that he be sentenced accordingly.

Whatley argued that the statute is unconstitutionally vague as it applies to him because there was nothing about the church, such as signage, indicating that it’s a protected area. But the majority found Whatley could have observed the church’s status by seeing young people enter and exit the building on a regular basis; he also could have asked if it offered youth programs on a regular basis. Just as was the case in Walker v. State, 668 N.E.2d 243 (Ind. 1996), it doesn’t matter that Whatley was unaware of the existence of the youth program center. The statute isn’t vague as applied to the facts of Whatley’s case, wrote Justice Sullivan.

But that’s one reason why Justices Boehm and Rucker dissented – the enhancement doesn’t list church or any other term that might more plainly include Robinson Community Church. Due process requires that a criminal statute give everyone reasonable notice of what is prohibited, Justice Boehm wrote. Justice Rucker concurred that Whatley’s enhanced sentence should be set aside.
 

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  1. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!!!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

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