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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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  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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