Justices differ on defining 'youth program center'

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.


Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues