State v. Downey

Decision Date11 April 1985
Docket NumberNos. 383,s. 383
PartiesSTATE of Indiana, Appellant, v. Robert Lee DOWNEY, Ora Downey and Nona Downey, Appellees. S 91, 383 S 92.
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Michael Gene Worden, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellant.

Jerry E. Levendoski, Deputy Public Defender, Bruce S. Cowen, Deputy Public Defender, Robert S. Bechert, Deputy Public Defender, Fort Wayne, for appellees.

DeBRULER, Justice.

This is a consolidation of two direct appeals from grantings of motions to dismiss pursuant to Ind.Code Sec. 35-3.1-1-4. Appellees, Robert, Ora and Nona Downey, were charged with neglect of a dependent, a class D felony, Ind.Code Sec. 35-46-1-4(a)(1). Appellees moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the section of the statute it was based upon was unconstitutionally vague. The trial court agreed with their contention and dismissed the indictments. The State of Indiana appeals from this ruling pursuant to Ind.Code Sec. 35-1-47-2(1) and Ind.App. Rule 4(A)(8).

The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in dismissing the indictments on the grounds that Ind.Code Sec. 35-46-1-4(a)(1) (since amended) was unconstitutionally vague. The pertinent section of the statute is set forth here.

"Neglect of a dependent. (a) A person having the care, custody or control of a dependent who knowingly or intentionally:

(1) Places the dependent in a situation that may endanger his life or health;

* * *

* * *

Commits neglect of a dependent, a class D Felony."

The indictments tracked Ind.Code Sec. 35-46-1-4(a)(1) in this manner. "Defendants, having care, custody and control of the following dependents ... did knowingly place said dependents in such a situation which may endanger their life or health, to wit, by placing them in insanitary conditions."

I

In approaching a consideration of the constitutionality of a statute, we must at all times exercise self restraint. Otherwise, under the guise of limiting the Legislature to its constitutional bounds, we are likely to exceed our own. That we have the last word only renders such restraint the more compelling. We, therefore, remind ourselves that in our role as guardian of the constitution, we are nevertheless a court and not a "supreme legislature." We have no right to substitute our convictions as to the desirability or wisdom of legislation for those of our elected representatives. We are under a constitutional mandate to limit the General Assembly to its lawful territory of prohibiting legislation which, although enacted under the claim of a valid exercise of the police power, is unreasonable and oppressive. Nevertheless, we recognize that the Legislature is vested with a wide latitude of discretion in determining public policy. Therefore, every statute stands before us clothed with the presumption of constitutionality, and such presumption continues until clearly overcome by a showing to the contrary.

In the deliberative process, the burden is upon the challenger to overcome such presumption, and all doubts are resolved against his charge.

Sidle v. Majors (1976), 264 Ind. 206, 341 N.E.2d 763. A statute will not be found unconstitutionally vague if individuals of ordinary intelligence would comprehend it to adequately inform them of the conduct to be proscribed. Platt v. State (1976), 168 Ind.App. 55, 341 N.E.2d 219, 221; Porter v. State (1982), Ind.App., 440 N.E.2d 690, 692. The statute need only inform the individual of the generally proscribed conduct, a statute need not list with itemized exactitude each item of conduct prohibited. Hunter v. State (1977), 172 Ind.App. 397, 360 N.E.2d 588, 595.

Appellees contended, and the trial court agreed, that Ind.Code Sec. 35-46-1-4(a)(1) in so far as it employs the phrase "Places the dependent in a situation that may endanger his life or health", is not specific enough to inform individuals of ordinary intelligence of the proscribed conduct because every situation carries with it some degree of danger. The argument focused upon the words "may endanger" as being the particular source of vagueness, and as sweeping within its proscription, placements which could not rationally be the basis for criminal prosecution.

Danger is the state of being exposed to harm. To endanger is to bring into danger. The word "may" means in some degree likely to. Webster's Third New International Dictionary. The word "may" expresses ability, possibility, or contingency. Ott v. Johnson (1974), 262 Ind. 548, 319 N.E.2d 622. Therefore, the statute must be read to proscribe placements which to some degree are likely to bring a dependent into a situation in which he is exposed to harm. Thus the statute does not require that the placement expose a dependent to harm. It need only expose one to the risk of a risk of harm. Under this language, it would be a crime to raise a child in a high-rise apartment or to mop...

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    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • November 9, 1995
    ...different policy basis and is consistent with legislative intent. State v. Kuebel (1961), 241 Ind. 268, 172 N.E.2d 45. State v. Downey, 476 N.E.2d 121, 123 (Ind. 1985). In Downey the court found that the particular language at issue ("may endanger" in a child neglect statute) did not "indic......
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    ...that the inclusion of "mental distress" is understood to encompass only the risk of severe emotional trauma. See also State v. Downey , 476 N.E.2d 121, 123 (Ind. 1985) ("The purpose of [ § 35-46-1-4(a)(1) ] ... is to authorize the intervention of the police power to prevent harmful conseque......
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    ...where such construction does not establish a new or different policy basis and is consistent with legislative intent.” State v. Downey, 476 N.E.2d 121, 123 (Ind.1985). Even when adopting a narrowing construction,we must engage in statutory construction to be sure we are not deviating from t......
  • Helton v. State, 55A01-9305-CR-178
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    ...them of the generally proscribed conduct. Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601, 93 S.Ct. 2908, 37 L.Ed.2d 830 (1973); State v. Downey (1985), Ind., 476 N.E.2d 121, 122; Mallory v. State (1990), Ind.App., 563 N.E.2d 640, 644-45, trans. denied. Statutes which threaten to inhibit the exercise o......
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3 books & journal articles
  • § 5.02 Statutory Clarity
    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Criminal Law (CAP) 2022 Title Chapter 5 Legality
    • Invalid date
    ...U.S. 781, 794 (1989).[39] Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. at 539 (Frankfurter, J., dissenting) (emphasis added); see also State v. Downey, 476 N.E.2d 121, 122 (Ind. 1985) (a statute "need only inform the individual of the generally proscribed conduct, [and] need not list with itemized exactit......
  • §5.02 STATUTORY CLARITY
    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Criminal Law (CAP) 2018 Title Chapter 5 Legality
    • Invalid date
    ...781, 794 (1989).[38] . Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. at 539 (Frankfurter, J., dissenting) (emphasis added); see also State v. Downey, 476 N.E.2d 121, 122 (Ind. 1985) (a statute "need only inform the individual of the generally proscribed conduct, [and] need not list with itemized exactitude......
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