Public Intoxication - Vagueness Problems with Criminalizing Annoying Behavior

In an issue of first impression, the Court of Appeals in Morgan v. State, 4 N.E.3d 751 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014), held that the subsection of Indiana's public intoxication statute that criminalizes "annoying" another person is unconstitutionally vague.

Rodregus Morgan was intoxicated as he slept in a plexiglass bus shelter. When an officer awakened Morgan, he smelled alcohol, Morgan was unsteady on his feet and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Because Morgan was intoxicated and his behavior was "annoying," the officer arrested him. The Court of Appeals concluded that Ind. Code §7.1-5-1-3(a)(4) is unconstitutionally vague because it fails to provide notice to enable ordinary people to understand the prohibited conduct. It is also unconstitutional because it does not require that a defendant intentionally annoy another individual and does not rely on an objective standard to determine whether or not the defendant's behavior would be considered annoying to a reasonable individual.

Because the statute does not require the defendant to be warned his behavior is annoying, it allows arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, as the illegality of conduct is based on "the subjective feelings of a particular person at any given time." Striking down the term "annoying" as unconstitutionally vague does not inhibit the execution of the public intoxication statute, so the remainder of Ind. Code § 7.1-5-1-3(a) stands.

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