Being 'Annoying' While Drunk No Longer Illegal in Ind.

By Brett Snider, Esq. on February 18, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An Indiana man arrested for being "drunk and annoying" scored a victory on Thursday when a state appellate court overturned his public intoxication conviction.

The Indiana Court of Appeals found that Rodregus Morgan was arrested under a state law that was unconstitutionally vague about just how "annoying" a drunk person could be, Indianapolis' WRTV reported.

What about Indiana's public intoxication law was so annoying to the appellate court?

'Drunk and Annoying' Intoxication Law

Morgan was arrested at a bus stop in 2012 under Indiana's public intoxication law. As the law stood at the time of Morgan's arrest, it was illegal for a person to be intoxicated in a public place if that person:

  • Endangered a life (the drunk person's or another's life);
  • Breached the peace or is in "imminent danger" of doing so; or
  • Harassed, annoyed, or alarmed another person.

According to the Indiana appellate court's opinion, Morgan was allegedly sleeping on a bus shelter bench when officers attempted to wake him. When the officers reportedly asked Morgan to leave the bus shelter, Morgan told officers to "[g]et off of [him]" and had an odor of alcohol coupled with an "agitated" and "angry" demeanor.

This apparently was enough for Indianapolis' finest to arrest Morgan, who was convicted by a judge of public intoxication and disorderly conduct.

Vague Statute Leads to Overturned Conviction

The problem with Morgan's conviction for public intoxication is that the law -- especially the "annoying" part -- was unconstitutionally vague in the eyes of the appellate court.

A criminal law is unconstitutionally vague if it fails to clearly define what conduct constitutes breaking the law. In other words, you can't uphold a law that doesn't clearly let the public know what is illegal and what isn't.

The Indiana appellate court noted that the "drunk and annoying" portion of the law had absolutely no standard by which to judge what kind of annoyance while drunk was illegal.

This is not the first time an "annoying" law has been struck down. The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a vague Cincinnati statute prohibiting "annoying" behavior in 1971, arguing that there was no standard of conduct in the law for how ordinary citizens should act.

Since the Indiana law lacked any standard to judge "annoying," the appellate court struck down the "annoying" portion of the law and overturned Morgan's public intoxication conviction.

Indiana residents should not strive to be annoying after this ruling, but it should be comforting to know that being obnoxious while drunk isn't necessarily illegal.

Follow FindLaw for Consumers on Facebook and Twitter (@FindLawConsumer).

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard