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Tin Thang v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 27, 2014

TIN THANG, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
STATE OF INDIANA, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, No. 49F07-1212-CM-81589. The Honorable Marshelle Broadwell, Judge Pro Tempore. On Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A04-1303-CR-110.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Patricia C. McMath, Ruth A. Johnson, Marion County Public Defender Agency, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Katherine M. Cooper, Andrew A. Kobe, Stephen R. Creason, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dickson, Chief Justice. Rush and Massa, JJ., concur. David, J., dissents with separate opinion in which Rucker, J., joins.

OPINION

Page 1257

Dickson, Chief Justice.

Following a bench trial, defendant Tin Thang was convicted for Public Intoxication, a class B misdemeanor. He appeals his conviction, arguing that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove one of the statutory elements for Public Intoxication--that he had endangered himself or others. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed Thang's conviction. Thang v. State, 2 N.E.3d 702 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013). We granted transfer and now affirm the trial court.

On December 2, 2012, police officer Michael Agresta was on patrol on the southwest side of Indianapolis. Officer Agresta was exiting the restroom of a local gas station, when the gas station attendant drew his attention to the defendant and told him that the defendant seemed intoxicated. Officer Agresta approached the defendant, who had entered the gas station while he was in the restroom, and observed that the defendant " was standing very unsteady, swaying back and forth," had " eyes [that] were red and bloodshot," and " smelled of an odor of alcoholic beverage." Tr. at 7. Officer Agresta also observed that a car was now in the gas station parking lot that had not been there prior to his entering the restroom. Other than the gas station attendant and Officer Agresta, the defendant was the only other person at the gas station. Suspecting that the car belonged to the defendant, the officer ran a vehicle license plate check, which verified that the defendant was the car owner. Officer Agresta also found the keys to the car on the defendant's person. " Believing that [the defendant] had endangered the lives of others, including himself," Officer Agresta placed the defendant under arrest for Public Intoxication and had the car towed because no one else was present to whom the car could be released. Id. at 8.

The defendant was convicted of Public Intoxication, a class B misdemeanor, which, in relevant part, is defined as follows:

[I]t is a Class B misdemeanor for a person to be in a public place or a place of public resort in a state of intoxication

Page 1258

caused by the person's use of alcohol . . . if the person:
(1) endangers the person's life;
(2) endangers the life of another person;
(3) breaches the peace or is in imminent danger of breaching the peace; or
(4) harasses, annoys, or alarms another person.

Ind. Code § 7.1-5-1-3(a) (2012). On appeal, the parties do not dispute that the defendant was intoxicated in a public place. The defendant argues, however, that the evidence was insufficient to " prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he endangered himself or anyone else." Appellant's Br. at 3. The State argues that evidence establishes that the defendant endangered his own life and another person's life and also alarmed another person, any of which would support the conviction.

The Court of Appeals found the evidence insufficient to establish that defendant had endangered himself, endangered others, or alarmed another person. As to the " alarms another person" element, we summarily affirm the Court of Appeals. We granted transfer, however, to address whether the proof of the endangerment element can be established by reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence.

When an appellate court reviews the sufficiency of the evidence needed to support a criminal conviction, it neither reweighs evidence nor judges the credibility of witnesses. Bailey v. State, 907 N.E.2d 1003, 1005 (Ind. 2009). The appellate court only considers " the evidence supporting the judgment and any reasonable inferences that can be drawn from such evidence." Id. (quoting Henley v. State, 881 N.E.2d 639, 652 (Ind. 2008)). A conviction will be affirmed if there is substantial evidence of probative value supporting each element of the offense such that a reasonable trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Bailey, 907 N.E.2d at 1005. A verdict of guilt may be based upon an inference if reasonably drawn from the evidence. See Drane v. State, 867 N.E.2d 144, 147 (Ind. 2007).

In a rare departure from this general rule allowing fact-finders to draw reasonable inferences, we have, however, recognized an exception in cases involving the element of " endangerment" in the offense of Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated [OWI] as a class A misdemeanor.[1]Outlaw v. State, 929 N.E.2d 196, 196 (Ind. 2010), expressly adoptingOutlaw v. State, 918 N.E.2d 379 (Ind. Ct App. 2009). In Outlaw, we acknowledged that prior decisions had found that a showing of intoxicated driving, without more, was adequate to prove endangerment. 918 N.E.2d at 382, expressly adopted by 929 N.E.2d at 196. Responding to a 2001 statutory amendment that had expanded the penal alternatives for OWI to create a class C misdemeanor level of the offense that excluded the " endangerment" element, while retaining this element for the offense as a class A misdemeanor, Outlaw held that, to support a conviction for OWI as a class A misdemeanor, " the State was required to submit proof of 'endangerment' that went beyond mere intoxication." Id. at 382. This unique ...


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