In 2012 the Indiana legislature amended the public intoxication statute. Since then a lot of ink has been spilled in Indiana Courts trying to interpret the legislature’s intent. The new statute reads in relevant part:
It is a Class B misdemeanor for a person to be in a public place or a place of public resort in a state of intoxication caused by the person’s use of alcohol or a controlled substance…if the person…harasses, annoys, or alarms another person.
In December the Indiana Supreme Court issued an opinion regarding what “annoys” means in the public intoxication statute. See Morgan v. Indiana, No. 49S02-1405-CR-325 (Ind. Dec. 18, 2014).
In Morgan, an Indianapolis Police Officer heard a man yelling at another man to wake up inside a bus shelter. After listening to the yelling for a couple of minutes and seeing the man inside the shelter continue to wake up and doze back off, the officer exited his patrol vehicle and walked over to the bus shelter to check on the welfare of the man inside. The man sleeping in the bus shelter was identified as Rodregus Morgan. When the officer walked into the shelter, the other man present explained that he was trying to wake his brother. The officer tapped on Morgan’s shoulder and tried to wake him. Morgan raised his head and stated, “Get off of me.”
The officer again tapped Morgan and told him he needed to leave the bus shelter, and repeated this to Morgan again when he did not respond. Morgan seemed agitated to the officer but he did comply and get up from the bench. When Morgan stood, the officer noticed him swaying from side-to-side. Morgan’s eyes were bloodshot red and glassy, and the officer smelled alcohol. At that time, the officer placed Morgan under arrest for public intoxication because he believed him to be under the influence of alcohol and an annoyance. After Morgan was placed under arrest, Morgan began yelling and making a great deal of noise. The officer directed him to stop making an unreasonable amount of noise but Morgan continued yelling.
Morgan was charged with intimidation, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct. At a bench trial he was convicted of public intoxication and disorderly conduct. Morgan appealed his public intoxication conviction.
Morgan challenged his public intoxication conviction in two manners. First, he argued that the term “annoys” was unconstitutionally vague, and alternatively, if the term was not too vague, that his actions simply were not annoying.
Morgan argued that what could be annoying to one person may not be annoying to another. After going through a long legal analysis the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that “annoys” is not unconstitutionally vague. The Supreme Court held that “the application of a reasonableness standard to the term ‘annoys’ satisfies constitutional requirements.”
However, the Indiana Supreme Court held that under a reasonableness standard that Morgan’s actions did not “annoy” others. The Supreme Court found that Morgan was asleep in a bus shelter, not stumbling down a public sidewalk and a sleeping individual is unlikely to annoy a reasonable person. The Supreme Court further held that the degree of agitation expressed by Morgan, standing alone, does not rise to the level that would annoy a reasonable person.