Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

Public intoxication should not be a crime.

   Last night I thought about a deposition I took this week.

   Folks met up yesterday at the Broad Ripple Tavern (BRT) at 2:00—p.m., not a.m.—to do what has become ritual New Year’s Eve: talk, have a few laughs, discuss political and social issues, and drink. My beverage of choice is beer. Joe, a fraternity brother from DePauw days, does not imbibe. Bright-line rules have their merits. Mine: do not drink if one knows one has to get behind the wheel of a car and do not drive if one has had anything to drink. Living four blocks from one’s favorite bar helps. If weather is decent, the walk is far from unpleasant. If the thought of walking home is a drag, the cab ride is cheap. Last night Joe was driving the same direction we were headed. We chipped in (not for gas but for the parking ticket he received.) The sidewalks were busy, but would be far busier later in the evening.

   This sounds like people who drink responsibly, as the ads all say we should do. Unfortunately, according to a recent decision of the Indiana Supreme Court, anyone walking the sidewalks could have been held to be in violation of the law.

   This brings me back to the deposition. My client was arrested for public intoxication, a Class-B misdemeanor. I filed a request for trial by jury. I deposed the arresting officer. He was polite and professional. He answered all my questions truthfully: He had been called to the parking lot of a motel about a woman who appeared drunk. Upon his arrival, my client was leaning against a car. He asked her if she had had anything to drink. I asked him in deposition: did you specify "alcohol." He said no, but that "alcohol" was implied in his question. Client answered she had had "several." I asked the officer if she had said "several" drinks of alcohol—like several martinis or beers. Again he said "no." Were any chemical tests administered to her? No. Were any field sobriety tests administered to her? No. Did she have in her possession any cup or other container the contents of which consisted of alcoholic beverage? No. You wrote that she smelled of "alcohol." Was that a specific drink, like beer? No, just the smell of alcohol. Did you receive your training at the Marion County police academy (or whatever the formal name for it is)? Yes. Were you instructed that there were physical conditions that cause a person who has not consumed alcohol to sometimes emit the odor of alcohol? Yes.  Did you ask her if she suffers from any of these conditions? No.

   The kicker, though, was my question about standards for determining intoxication. I asked if a person who consumes one (1) beer in a bar and afterwards exhibits signs of impairment, is that person committing the crime of public intoxication? The answer: yes. There is no BAC under Indiana law that defines intoxication on alcohol.

   There are plenty of reasons to place restrictions on consumption of alcohol or, rather, actions in which people engage after consumption. The big example: operating a motor vehicle. Simple public intox (or "PI" as it is called in the legal community) should not be a crime. Many times officers use it as a pretext to place someone under arrest.

   All those people on the sidewalk last night could have been arrested and charged. They were not. That law should be scrapped.

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