Winning briefs: Conviction reversed for man found in underwear

A Knox County man convicted of public intoxication after being found in public wearing only underwear has won his appeal after the Indiana Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence to support the Class B misdemeanor.

In Jeffrey S. Morris v. State of Indiana, 42A05-1709-CR-2059, Vincennes police were dispatched in June 2017 to investigate a report of a man wearing only underwear in public. When Officer Robert Hammond arrived at the scene, he found Jeffrey Morris standing in the road in his underwear, sweating and displaying signs of paranoia.

Though Hammond instructed Morris to stay in his house, he received four more calls about Morris’ behavior on the same day. He eventually arrested Morris for public intoxication and testified during the ensuing trial about his belief that Morris was “potentially under the influence of bath salts.”

Based on that testimony, the Knox Superior Court entered judgment against Morris for a Class B misdemeanor. The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, reversed that conviction, with Judge Melissa May writing the state failed to prove Morris was under the influence of a controlled substance.

“Officer Hammond described Morris as ‘profusely sweating…and acting paranoid,’ and testified he believed Morris was ‘potentially under the influence of bath salts,’” May wrote in a Wednesday opinion. “While bath salts can contain a controlled substance, our system of justice does not permit citizens to be convicted of potential illegality.”

The state could have proven Morris was intoxicated by a controlled substance through chemical testing or the testimony of an expert witness, May said, but no such evidence was offered. Thus, the appellate court reversed Morris’ conviction.

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