That’s what Indiana’s top court is trying to figure out, reports USA Today: The state’s current public intoxication law allows for a criminal charge if a person is intoxicated and in public who “harasses, annoys or alarms another person.”
The definition of what could be annoying all started in August 2012, when an off-duty police officer working security for a bus service spotted a man passed out on a bench in a downtown bus shelter. The suspect’s brother was yelling at him for to wake up. No one else was around when the officer approached.
He woke the man, who became agitated and angry, and said there was an odor of alcohol on his breath. So he arrested him for public intoxication, writing that not only was he drunk, that was “coupled with the fact that … his behavior was annoying.”
An appeals court overturned that conviction in February, finding the “annoying” standard unconstitutionally vague. It wrote in the decision that there has to be “some ‘scientifically objective measurement for compliance’” in the statute “so that the public is aware of the conduct that will subject them to arrest.”
Basically, if you do Thing A when you’re drunk, you can be charged with a crime. If you do Thing B, then you won’t be.
The “annoying” bit was added to the statute in 2012 as an update that was supposed to limit officer discretion and refine the law to cases where a person was causing harm or affecting others. But that might not have been enough, says one legal expert.
“The bar should be higher,” he explains. “It needs to be clear what is meant by annoying.”
That’s how the appellate court saw it: “The (public intoxication) 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.”
It went on to add that the wording would allow officers to use their own arbitrary methods of enforcement, considering that anything they’d witness would be subjective based on their feelings at the time, instead of a legally enforceable, defined criteria.
The state attorney’s general’s office wants the Supreme court to overturn the Court of Appeals ruling, arguing among other things, that the statute wasn’t vague as applied in the bus shelter situation, because “a person of ordinary intelligence would know that lying drunk in a public bus shelter that the general public uses throughout the day for transportation constitutes conduct that would annoy others — especially when the intoxicated person angrily and continually refuses to move when asked to do so by another person.”
Now I’d just like to know whether you can call the police on the flocks of screaming, yelling, puking and otherwise obnoxious crowds on the subway on St. Patrick’s Day because boy, would I like to know.