Is ‘annoying’ too vague for public drunkenness law?


Tim Evans, tim.evans@indystar.com9:10 a.m. EDT September 18, 2014


(It takes more than just being drunk to get convicted of public intoxication in Indiana.

The law says you also have to be annoying.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in February thatthe term is unconstitutionally vague.

Attorneys for the state will try this morning to convince the Indiana Supreme Court that the term is not.

The attorney general’s office, which is responsible for defending court challenges to state law, requested the high court’s review.

The challenge comes after the appeals court overturned the conviction of Rodregus Morgan, an Indianapolis man whose alcohol-induced public conduct was found annoying by a police officer.

When the high court announced it was taking up the case, Attorney General spokesman Bryan Corbin laid out the state’s argument: “The statute was not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Morgan 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.”

A three-judge panel from the court of appeals, however, still found the “annoying” standard unconstitutionally vague. A criminal statute “must include some ‘scientifically objective measurement for compliance’ so that the public is aware of the conduct that will subject them to arrest,” the appeals opinion said.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case at 9:45 a.m. The panel has two basic options: uphold the appeals court ruling or reverse that decision with a finding that the term annoying is not too vague.

It won’t be the first or last time a high court has taken up the issue of vagueness in the law. Most famous is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1964 take on obscenity that included former Justice Potter Stewart’s oft-repeated “know it when I see it” standard.

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description … (of what is and is not obscene),” Stewart explained.

Perhaps, Stewart admitted, he could “never succeed in intelligibly” defining obscenity.

“But,” he was clear, “I know it when I see it.”

This story will be updated.

Call Tim Evans at (317) 444-6204. Follow him on Twitter:@starwtatchtim

Leave a Comment: