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Stepson’s testimony, cell phone search invalidate stepdad’s drug conviction

September 24, 2012

A man’s conviction on a drug dealing conspiracy charge was reversed Monday when an appeals court panel ruled that a Marion County court erred in admitting testimony and evidence about text messages from the defendant’s stepson.

In Gregory Kirk v. State of Indiana 49A02-1110-CR-979, the court found that the admission of 16-year-old stepson D.K.’s statements to an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer was harmless to three of Kirk’s convictions, but not to a conviction of conspiracy to commit dealing in a controlled substance.

In a jury trial, Kirk was convicted of conspiracy to commit dealing in cocaine as a Class B felony, conspiracy to commit dealing in a controlled substance as a Class B felony, neglect of a dependent as a Class C felony, and possession of marijuana as a Class A misdemeanor.

On appeal, Kirk argued that the court abused its discretion in admitting incriminating statements that D.K. made to police and in admitting evidence gathered during a warrantless search of Kirk’s cell phone.

The Indiana Court of Appeals found that D.K.’s statements to police constituted damaging hearsay, and that a warrantless police search of Kirk’s cell phone after he was arrested for neglect of a dependent and public intoxication went too far.

“There was no real law enforcement need to open the cell phone, press a button to access the inbox, and read six to eight text messages,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the unanimous panel. “The state attempts to justify the search of the cell phone under the Indiana Constitution by stating that the search intruded only a small amount into Kirk’s ordinary activities and that law enforcement needs were great. On balance, we are not persuaded.”

The court found that police testimony connected to text messages they saw on Kirk’s phone was the only evidence that proved Kirk conspired to sell controlled substances.

“We therefore reverse Kirk’s conviction as to the count of conspiracy to commit dealing in a controlled substance and remand to the trial court so that his sentence may be changed accordingly,” Kirsch wrote.

Kirk unsuccessfully argued that a search warrant that turned up drugs in his home should not have been admitted. The appeals court found no error in allowing the search and resulting evidence.



 

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