Court throws out "drunk and annoying" portion of public intox law

Says wording is unconstitutionally vague

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Court of Appeals has thrown out part of the state's intoxication law for being too vague.

In an opinion released Thursday, the court found unconstitutionally vague a provision of the law which made it a misdemeanor to annoy another person in a public place while intoxicated.

The decision stemmed from an appeal filed by Rodregus Morgan of an August 2012 arrest for public intoxication and disorderly conduct.

According to court documents, Morgan was asleep and allegedly intoxicated in an IndyGo bus shelter when his brother's attempts to wake him caught the eye of an IMPD officer.

The officer approached the shelter to check on Morgan's welfare, according to documents, and attempted to wake him. Morgan then raised his head up, looked at the officer and said, "Get off of me," according to documents.

After several warnings to vacate the shelter were ignored – along with the officer's observations that a strong odor of alcohol was "emitting from Morgan's breath and body … coupled with the fact that … his behavior was annoying" – the officer placed Morgan under arrest.

Morgan then threatened to "kick the officer's [expletive]," according to court documents.

Lawyers for Morgan appealed the verdict, saying the statute was unconstitutionally vague about what constituted unlawfully annoying behavior. The appeals court agreed.

"The statute neither requires that a defendant have specifically intended to annoy another, nor does it employ an objective standard to assess whether a defendant’s conduct would be annoying to a reasonable person," the court said in its opinion. "Furthermore, the statute does not mandate that the defendant have been first warned that his behavior was considered annoying conduct."

"Instead, this section of the statute enables arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement because the illegality of any conduct—no matter how trivial or how substantial—is based solely on the subjective feelings of a particular person at any given time," the court said.

In review, the appeals court overturned Morgan's public intoxication conviction. His disorderly conduct conviction was upheld. 

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