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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It is Not Illegal to be Drunk and Annoying in Indiana

...or at least the law that criminalizes this activity is unconstitutionally vague. From the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog:

Indiana’s public-intoxication law makes a criminal of someone who, while drunk in a public place, “harasses, annoys, or alarms another person.” 
Or at least it did. 
. . . 
On Thursday, the Indiana Court of Appeals sided with [defendant, Rodregus] Morgan and struck down the “annoying” language in the law, knocking the wind out of his public-intoxication conviction. (It upheld his conviction for disorderly conduct, however.) 
The court concluded that the law was in fact too vague because it neither required intent to annoy another person, nor provided an objective standard for judging what makes something annoying.
The full text of the opinion, Morgan v. State, is available here. In concluding that the law was too vague, the court wrote:

Namely, 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. 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's reasoning seems to imply that the law may be salvaged if an objective standard is added to the existing "annoying" language. This means that if a statute bans conduct that would annoy the reasonable person, the state would have a stronger argument that the statute is not unconstitutionally vague.

All of this raises the question: what annoys the reasonable person? This is an important question that the court leaves unanswered, and should probably be the subject of a student note.

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