Walking home drunk peacefully will no longer be a crime, according to an Indiana law taking effect Monday.
Before, police officers could arrest any person for public intoxication who they deemed to be intoxicated in a public place. Now, the law requires police to prove arrested persons meet at least one of these standards: endangering the life of themselves or another person; breaching the peace; or harassing, annoying or alarming another person.
The law was a legislative response after the controversy surrounding the 2008 case of Brenda Moore in Indianapolis. After Moore consumed two “tall” beers, she considered herself too drunk to drive and gave her keys to a friend. When they were pulled over for a malfunctioning license plate light, her friend did not have a driver’s license. Moore was arrested for public intoxication when she explained to the officer she couldn’t drive.
In a 2011 appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court did not overturn her conviction.
From July 2011 to May 2012, Purdue police have arrested 102 people for this offense. However, Purdue police officer John Dorroll, who has worked in this area since 1979, does not expect these numbers will change with the new law. According to him, Indiana has “legislated pretty much the practice officers have done for years and years.”
Dorroll said the figure of 102 arrests doesn’t even compare to the number of intoxicated people they actually encounter. Unless the person is already causing a problem, he said, Purdue police have always had the practice to not arrest drunk people in public simply for being drunk.
“During the football games, for example,” Dorroll said, “there’s a lot of people who are out there in various forms of intoxication. We have to show restraint and only arrest those who are endangering those or someone else.
“I don’t know how the (new law) would affect the actual practice of any police officer around here. It wouldn’t seem it would.”
The language of the new law raises the question as to whether police could arrest an intoxicated person they found sleeping in a public place, such as the side of the road. How could sleeping be endangering the peace of the community or someone else’s life?
Dorroll says it doesn’t; but falling asleep on the sidewalk would fall under endangering yourself. Again, though, the new law will not change how police approach it. Depending on whether he thinks the person can get home OK by themselves, Dorroll has let many people go home after waking them up.
Sometimes he decides giving the person a ride home is the best option.
“Sleeping is not an element of the crime, no,” Dorroll said. “But (if) the sleeping is what caught my attention and after having a little time with him I determined I cannot leave him, then I will make that (public intoxication) arrest because the next thing he might do is walk out in front of a car.”
Since Dorroll does not know the details of another police department’s arrest, he could not comment on the fairness of the Moore case. While he sometimes arrests the passengers of cars, it is only after determining they are incapable of getting home safe on their own – and this law will not change that practice.
Cassandra Eiden, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, doesn’t expect the law to change Purdue students’ behavior much either.
“I mean some people might be like, ‘Hey, you’re not going to arrest us. Let’s be crazy,’” Eiden said. “But there’s just as many, if not more, where it’s not going to change anything because they weren’t really doing anything in the first place.”