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Mail not hearsay, COA rules in affirming drug, gun convictions

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A Fort Wayne man’s convictions on multiple cocaine-dealing and felony weapons charges were affirmed Tuesday after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on an issue of first impression, indicating that he was not prejudiced by mail. Lamont Carpenter asserted the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted mail containing his name and address because it was hearsay.

Carpenter also claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly bifurcated his trial on a weapons charge and that simultaneous convictions of possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and possession of a handgun with altered identifying marks exposed him to double jeopardy.

Fort Wayne police executed a search warrant in January 2013 on Carpenter’s apartment after a confidential informant made controlled buys of cocaine on multiple occasions. Police found about 100 grams each of cocaine and marijuana, a semiautomatic pistol with the serial number removed, and about $1,400 in cash.

A jury convicted Carpenter of five counts of Class A felony dealing in cocaine, Class B felony unlawful possession of a handgun by a serious violent felon, Class C felony possession of a handgun with altered identifying marks, and Class D felony possession of marijuana.

“Carpenter argues that, because the jury received the statutory citation for possession of a firearm by an SVF, his trial was not completely bifurcated, which prejudiced him. We disagree,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel in Lamont Carpenter v. State of Indiana, 02A05-1309-CR-467.

Counsel for Carpenter argued that the judge gave jurors instructions that cited the statute, I.C. 35-47-4-5, which referred to serious violent felons. This could have prejudiced Carpenter if jurors looked up the statute. May, however, wrote the that judge had warned jurors against doing their own research, and evidence showed the jury didn’t know he was a serious violent felon.

“Carpenter has not demonstrated he was prejudiced by the partial bifurcation of his trial,” the panel wrote.

Neither was Carpenter biased by mail with his name and address that was admitted after police collected it during the search. The panel held the mail was not hearsay.

“While this is an issue of first impression in Indiana, a majority of the courts from other states that have considered the issue have held the prohibition against the admission of hearsay is not violated when mail found during an investigation is introduced at trial to demonstrate the defendant’s name and address were on mail found in a specific location,” May wrote, citing authority from Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.

Finally, the court concluded, “Carpenter was not subjected to double jeopardy when he was convicted of possession of a firearm by a SVF and possession of a handgun with altered identifying marks."
 

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