Man gets public intoxication conviction reversed thanks to change in statute
Last Updated: 115 days ago
MARION COUNTY, Ind. - A court has thrown out a case against a man who was charged with public drunkenness after a new law was cited, honing in on the definition of a public intoxication charge.
According to Marion County Superior Court documents, in October of 2012, Danny Stephens was drunk at his own home when he was assaulted by his niece’s boyfriend. Stephens left the home when police failed to arrest the boyfriend, heading to a public place (a convenience store) and calling the police.
Documents say Stephens admitted to police on the phone that he was drunk and requested they take him to jail, so that he would not have to return home and risk another run-in with his niece’s boyfriend. The state charged him with a Class-B misdemeanor public intoxication charge and a trial court convicted him.
However, Stephens appealed the conviction, challenging the sufficiency of evidence against him.
Court documents say a Class-B misdemeanor of public intoxication is defined as follows:
- A person in a public place or place of public resort in a state of intoxication caused by the person’s use of alcohol or a controlled substance, if the person:
- Endangers the person’s life
- Endangers the life of another person
- Breaches the peace or is in imminent danger of breaching the peace, or
- Harasses, annoys or alarms another person
The courts determined the first half of this charge was correct: The officer who responded to Stephens’ call established he was drunk through observation. Not to mention, Stephens told the officer he was drunk and had been drinking all night.
But the second part of the charge – the necessity that the person was endangering theirs or others’ lives, was breaching the peace or was harassing or annoying someone – was a bigger question for the courts.
Court documents say the General Assembly added these elements to the public intoxication statute in 2012, making it no longer a crime simply to be drunk in public.
A case that would merit a conviction, according to the courts, would be one in which a drunk man is standing in the middle of a busy street, ignoring police officers’ calls to return to the sidewalk. Drunkenness? Check. Endangering his own life and possibly others? Check.
“In contrast, here, Stephens was initially in a private place where he had every right to be intoxicated,” court documents said. “When police made no arrests after he was assaulted in his home by his niece’s boyfriend, Stephens sought to extricate himself from the situation… Simply put, he was asking the police for help. The mere fact that he was intoxicated in a public parking lot did not amount to a violation of the public intoxication statute.”
Court documents go on to say that on the contrary to being a menace, the danger, if any, was that Stephens would be the victim of another assault – not the perpetrator – if he returned home.
After digging through these facts, the courts ruled the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction for public intoxication, and reversed the conviction.
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