POLICE / PROSECUTOR UPDATE - JANUARY 1999
OWI / "Endangerment"
Resisting Law Enforcement/"Force"
This month we will briefly examine a couple of issues raised by recent court decisions.
First, we will look at the "endangerment" element of Operating a Vehicle While
Intoxicated. IC 9-13-2-86 defines "intoxicated" in part as "under the influence of (1)
alcohol . . . so that there is an impaired condition of thought and action and the loss of
normal control of a person's faculties to an extent that endangers a person." The court in
this case stated that the element of endangerment is proved by evidence that the
defendant's condition or manner of operating the vehicle could have endangered any
person, including the public, the police, or the defendant. Proof that the defendant's
condition rendered operation of the vehicle unsafe is sufficient to establish endangerment.
Based on this law, the State proved endangerment. A police officer observed
defendant's vehicle leaving a parking lot at 2:00 a.m. without the headlights on. The vehicle
veered onto the center double yellow line with its front and rear left tires. The vehicle was
determined by radar to be traveling 51 m.p.h. in a clearly marked 30 m.p.h. zone. Alcohol
was found in the vehicle, and the defendant admitted to having consumed three or four
beers earlier. The defendant smelled strongly of alcohol, his eyes were bloodshot, and his
speech was very slurred. He failed the horizontal gaze nystagmus sobriety test and the
"counting backward" test. This evidence supported the conclusion that the defendant's
driving ability was impaired to an extent that endangered himself and/or others.
The next case dealt with Resisting Law Enforcement, and the meaning of the
terms "force" and "fleeing" as those terms are used in the statute.
The facts reveal that a welfare worker, accompanied by a police officer, went to the
defendant's house to investigate a report of child abuse. The defendant met them at the
door and spoke with the welfare worker. The officer advised the defendant that he should
cooperate, to which the defendant responded that the reason for the visit was unfounded
and he would "have to respectfully resist." The defendant then stated he was going back
into the house, and the officer told him not to. The defendant did so anyway and shut and
locked the door behind him. The officer twice demanded that he open the door. When he
didn't do so, the officer forced open the door, entered the house, and informed the
defendant he was under arrest. The defendant stopped at the door and said he was not
going, that the officer would "have to physically take me out of this house." He put his
hands on the sides of the doorway to hold himself in the doorway, but the officer pushed
him outside. The defendant resisted having handcuffs put on him, forcing the officer to
move his arms to put on the handcuffs. The defendant then dropped to his knees and told
the officer that he would have to drag him to the police car. The defendant was convicted
of Resisting by fleeing into the house and by forcibly resisting.
The defendant contended that his act of walking into his house did not constitute
fleeing, that all cases dealing with fleeing involved running or jumping or high speed
chases. However, the court of appeals stated that whether a "flight" has occurred does not
require an inquiry into the speed, mode, and manner of retreat from a law enforcement
officer. "Flight" simply means a knowing attempt to escape law enforcement when the
defendant is aware that a law enforcement officer has ordered him to stop or to remain in
place. The defendant's movement need not be swift.
The defendant also contended he did not forcibly resist. He only passively resisted
the officer. He argued that "force" implies acts of strength, power, or violence directed
toward a law enforcement officer. The court of appeals said this definition was too
restrictive and that Indiana cases in the past have rejected the "passive resistance"
argument. Here the defendant physically resisted leaving the house by grabbing the door
frame, requiring the officer to shove him through the doorway to get him outside. Then,
once outside, the defendant refused to get up and walk, forcing the officer to lift him to his
feet. This evidence was sufficient to prove the defendant acted with the required force in
resisting the officer.
Weaver v. State, 702 N.E.2d 750 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998).
Wellman v. State, ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ind. Ct. App. 12/02/98).
This is a publication of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, covering
various topics of interest to law enforcement officers. It is directed
solely toward issues of evidence, criminal law and procedure. Please
consult your city, town, or county attorney for legal advice relating to
civil liability. Please direct any suggestions you may have for future
issues to Steve Stewart at 285-6264.