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Court rejects man's explanation of 'briefly'

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A man charged with a drug dealing offense near a school wasn’t entitled to a jury instruction stating he was only “briefly” within 1,000 feet of school property because the drug transaction was short in time even though it happened at his house, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

Clarence Seeley Jr. appealed his conviction of dealing in a schedule III controlled substance as a Class A felony since he was within 1,000 feet of a school when dealing, and the finding he is an habitual offender. Seeley sold pills containing hydroquinone during a controlled drug buy from his home that lasted between five and 10 minutes. His property is 545 feet from a church’s school property and his front door is around 800 feet from the front door of the school.

The state proffered a jury instruction that said it’s a defense that the defendant was briefly in, on, or within 1,000 feet of school property and no one under the age of 18 was in, on, or within 1,000 of the school property at the time of the offense. The court refused the instruction on the basis that because Seeley lived where the drug buy happened, he was there for more than just a mere passing.

Seeley believed the jury instruction should have been allowed and the term briefly should have reflected the time of the drug buy, not how long he was within 1,000 feet the school. Thus, the statutory defense would be available to him, and he was entitled to have the jury instructed accordingly.

Citing Griffin v. State, 925 N.E.2d 344, 347, 349-50 (Ind. 2010), Judge Edward Najam wrote in Clarence Seeley, Jr. v. State of Indiana, No. 21A05-1003-CR-167, that the “briefly” language relates to Seeley’s presence in the prescribed zone, not the length of the transaction.

“To be sure, in some scenarios the defendant’s presence in the proscribed zone will be coextensive with the illegal transaction,” he wrote. “But that is not the case here, where Seeley lived within 1,000 feet of school property.”

Seeley also argued because of his extended stay in the proscribed zone that he is entitled to the statutory defense. He claimed the length of the transaction is what matters here because when taking in context his total stay in the proscribed zone, the time spent on the illegal transaction only minimally increased the risk to children.

“Applying ‘briefly’ in the manner asserted by Seeley would wholly negate that prong of the statutory defense. When a defendant lives in the proscribed zone and he has turned his home into a place where controlled substances may be illegally purchased, he cannot be in the proscribed zone only ‘briefly,’” wrote the judge.

The Court of Appeals also upheld that the state’s evidence of the testimony of the county surveyor regarding the distance between Seeley’s property and the school’s property was sufficient for the jury to find the property was school property. The judges reversed the habitual offender finding as his previous convictions were insufficient as a matter of law for him to be found to be a habitual offender. They remanded for re-sentencing.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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