So a person walks into a bar, drains a couple of drinks and then, understanding that he's past the point of intoxication, asks a friend to drive him home.
Is that person, riding in the passenger seat, still at risk of criminal charges merely because he's had too much to drink?
Common sense would say no. The person did what society (and the law) compels him to do -- allow a designated driver to assist him.
But the Indiana Supreme Court, in its second peculiar ruling in recent weeks, says that a person can still be charged with public intoxication while riding in a vehicle, even if he or she commits no other illegal act.
Here are the (undisputed) facts of the case: Brenda Moore consumed two "tall" cans of beer on the evening of Dec. 5, 2008, at her sister's house. An acquaintance asked Moore if she would drive him to another location. She declined, saying that she had been drinking but offered to let him drive her car if he had a license. Moore rode along in the passenger seat. An Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer pulled over the car on East 13th Street because the vehicle's license plate light was out. The officer found that the driver did not, in fact, have a license. He also noticed that Moore had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. She admitted she had been drinking, and Moore was charged and later convicted of public intoxication. On appeal, the conviction was overturned.
Writing for the majority, Justice Brent Dickson restored the conviction and dismissed Moore's argument that she caused no public harm or annoyance and that she complied with public service admonishments not to drink and drive. Dickson asserted that the court was simply applying the law as written.
But judges shouldn't adhere so closely to the letter of the law that common sense and wisdom are squeezed out. As Justice Robert Rucker noted in dissent, "Moore should not suffer a criminal penalty for taking the responsible action of allowing a sober friend to drive her car while she was too intoxicated to do so.''
Last month, in a case that sparked justified outrage, the court ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not give citizens the "right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers."
The Indiana Supreme Court is a normally thoughtful safeguard against extremes on either side of the legal and political spectrums. It's erred badly twice of late, however.
Brenda Moore should not have been punished for trying to do the right thing.
Fellow blogger Paul Ogden has his own take on the decision here.