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COA upholds cocaine convictions, sentence

December 21, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a defendant’s arguments to overturn his two convictions of Class A felony possession of cocaine, including that he should have been granted a speedy trial and the trial court erred when it rejected his tendered jury instruction.

Patrick Austin was pulled over by Trooper Joseph White because the officer thought the trailer Austin’s semi-tractor was pulling would normally be pulled by a pickup truck. Austin’s logbooks and shipping papers made the trooper suspicious, but he allowed Austin to go free. White then contacted state police, which sent Trooper Mick Dockery to wait for Austin’s vehicle to drive by on the toll road. Dockery stopped Austin’s semi-tractor for two traffic violations. After a drug sniffing dog indicated it smelled illegal drugs in the trailer, police obtained a search warrant and found bricks of cocaine in the Mercedes and Rolls-Royce cars inside the trailer.

Austin filed for a speedy trial, but the state moved to continue his scheduled trial due to court congestion. After his trial was rescheduled beyond the 70-day period during which the state was required to try him after his request, Austin filed a motion for discharge. The trial court denied it. He was convicted of the two drug counts and sentenced to 40 years on each count, to be served concurrently.

On appeal, Austin argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion for discharge under Criminal Rule 4; the trial court abused its discretion by admitting contested evidence; the trial court abused its discretion by rejecting his tendered jury instruction regarding constructive possession; and the sentence assigned by the trial court was both an abuse of discretion and inappropriate based on Austin’s character and offenses.

The trial court did not err in denying his motion for discharge because his trial was moved to accommodate another incarcerated criminal defendant whose case was older than Austin’s. The judges also rejected his claim that his trial could have happened if the state moved a civil trial scheduled for the last day in his 70-day period.

The appellate court found no error in the trial court’s determination that the stop and search of Austin the second time was reasonable and affirmed admitting evidence that Austin had control over the Rolls-Royce on several occasions before he was arrested. It also found no abuse of discretion by the trial court regarding the jury instructions.

“As the trial court’s instruction could not have permitted the jury to find the ‘mere presence’ of drugs was enough to show Austin’s constructive possession, the jury was not, as Austin asserts, ‘left to speculate that his control over the Rolls-Royce and Mercedes Benz made him guilty,’” Judge Melissa May wrote in Patrick Austin v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1112-CR-588.

The judges also found his sentence to be appropriate based on his prior felony arrests and was caught transporting more than $4 million worth of cocaine.

 

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