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Public intoxication statute constitutional, but ‘annoying’ man’s conviction vacated

December 18, 2014

The Indiana Supreme Court vacated a man’s public intoxication conviction after finding his agitation does not rise to the level that would annoy a reasonable person. But the justices did find that the statute is not unconstitutionally vague.

Rodregus Morgan challenged his conviction of Class B misdemeanor public intoxication, which occurred after a police officer working security for the city bus service tried to wake Morgan, who was sleeping in a bus shelter. When Morgan woke up, he seemed agitated but complied with the officer’s request to get up from the bench. That’s when the officer believed Morgan was intoxicated and placed him under arrest.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding the portion of the public intox statute enacted in 2012 that uses the term “annoys” is void for vagueness. Morgan’s conviction was based on his “annoying” behavior.

In Rodregus Morgan v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1405-CR-325, the justices also reversed the conviction, but only after they found the statute was not unconstitutionally vague. Morgan argued that the term “annoys” is not defined in the statute and the term alone does not provide necessary warning or notice of the prohibited conduct that is required in a criminal statute.

Justice Steven David noted that the term “annoys” standing alone does appear to create a vagueness problem. But because of precedent using a reasonableness standard and principles of statutory interpretation apply, the justices found the statute to be constitutional.

“We acknowledge Morgan’s argument that ‘behavior that annoys some people will not annoy others,’” David wrote. “However, Indiana has historically recognized that the purpose of the public intoxication statute ‘is to protect the public from the annoyance and deleterious effects which may and do occur because of the presence of persons who are in an intoxicated condition,” thus demonstrating the apparent suitability of the word “annoys” within the statute.

Morgan was provided sufficient notice of the type of conduct that is prohibited, and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory enforcement will be authorized or encouraged. But, the justices found insufficient evidence to support his conviction.

“Morgan was agitated after being approached by the police officer. However, the degree of agitation expressed … by Morgan, standing alone, does not rise to the level that would annoy a reasonable person,” David wrote.
 

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