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New laws for 2012

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader


Effective July 1, 2012, Indiana residents received a host of new laws. Two of the new changes to the criminal code apply to public intoxication and underage drinking. From my perspective, new laws are usually not a good thing for my clients. Most laws prohibit some type of act. Accordingly, most new laws mean that some type of action that was permissible in the past is now illegal. Not so with these two.

Prior to July 1, it was illegal for a person in Indiana to be in a public place in a state of intoxication. Taverns, bowling alleys and movie theaters, for example, are all considered “public” locations. Your private residence is not a public place. After the law change, for a person who appears intoxicated in a public place to break the law, the person must also (1) endanger his life or the life of another; (2) breach the peace or appear to be in the process of breaching the peace; or (3) harass, annoy or alarm another person.

Intoxication doesn’t just mean impairment from alcoholic beverages. A person who smokes too much or takes too many prescribed pills can also be deemed “intoxicated.” In Indiana, a person is intoxicated if that person is under the influence of alcohol, controlled substance or drug with an impaired condition of thought and action AND has a loss of control of the person’s normal faculties. It will be interesting to see how police officers, trial courts and appellate courts define and/or interpret terms such as “breach of peace” and “annoy.”

I think the safe bet remains that if you’ve had too much to drink but can remain upright and non-argumentative, you have a fairly good shot at avoiding an arrest for public intoxication. The amendment makes sense. Why should an intoxicated person who decides to walk home (instead of driving) be charged with and possibly convicted of a crime that is punishable up to 180 days in jail? Under the former law, an intoxicated person in the passenger seat of a vehicle driven by a sober driver was breaking the law. So too with a drunk guy in the back of a taxi. The new law requires the State (local prosecutor) to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was also endangering a life, or breaching the peace or annoying, harassing or alarming at least one other person. Think back to a time when you were the only sober person in a group of intoxicated drinkers. Were you annoyed? Or, do you remember the last time you drank too much and didn’t annoy at least one other person?

Another change in the law applies to underage drinkers. It appears that an underage person who has been drinking and who makes an emergency call for help for either himself or another can’t be taken into custody by law enforcement. The protections apply for the offenses of public intoxication and minor in possession/consuming an alcoholic beverage. The motivation behind the law makes good sense: a person should not be discouraged from caring for the well-being of another person. Effective July 1, an underaged intoxicated person has one less thing to worry about if someone he is drinking with appears to be in need of emergency medical assistance. The person who makes the emergency call for help (and his friends who stick around to provide aid) might not get arrested, but he still might face some consequences from his school and his parents.

As an attorney, it is refreshing to see some new legislation that appears to de-criminalize certain behaviors. People drink and sometimes people drink too much. Now, under certain conditions, an intoxicated person should be able to legally walk home from a bar. And, kids who are sometimes more concerned about getting in trouble than they are the well-being of a friend who is passed out, might be more inclined to call for help.

Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. _This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you.

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