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Judges uphold convictions for attempted trafficking with an inmate

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The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a defendant’s argument that her Class C felony conviction of attempted trafficking with an inmate violates the proportionality clause of the Indiana Constitution.

In Natalie E. Murrell v. State of Indiana, No. 67A01-1106-CR-251, Natalie Murrell attempted to bring a bag of tobacco and four cell phones into the Putnamville Correctional Facility while visiting an inmate. She was charged with Class C felony attempted trafficking with an inmate for trying to bring in the cell phones; she was charged with the same crime as a Class A misdemeanor for trying to sneak in the tobacco.

At her bench trial, Murrell asserted a defense of duress, saying she was threatened by unknown people to smuggle in the items. She was convicted of the two charges.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the rejection of Murrell’s duress defense, finding that while she was threatened over the telephone to bring in the items, she was also promised she would receive money for medicine in exchange for delivering the contraband. Also, at any time, she could have called the police.

Murrell’s claim that her Class C felony conviction violates the proportionality clause of the state constitution has two aspects. She argued since cell phones aren’t as dangerous as weapons or controlled substances – the other items that also would warrant a Class C felony charge – she claimed it is constitutionally inappropriate to impose the same penalty. She also argued she is being punished more harshly for bringing in a cell phone than an inmate would be for possessing one.

The judges found the presence of a cell phone in prison can undermine discipline and facilitate other misconduct, as well as allowing inmates to direct criminal activity from behind bars. Therefore, the Class C felony conviction is not disproportionate merely because trafficking in cell phones is treated similarly to bringing controlled substances and weapons.

With regards to Murrell’s argument she’s receiving a harsher punishment for trafficking than an inmate would for possessing a cell phone, the judges noted that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for an inmate to get a cell phone if a visitor didn’t bring one into the prison.

“Therefore, the legislature could have reasonably decided it is easier to deter contraband by punishing most harshly those who attempt to bring contraband into a prison,” wrote Senior Judge Betty Barteau.

The COA ordered the trial court to resentence her because at a hearing, the trial court said the sentences would be served concurrently, but in the final order, the court ordered Murrell to serve them consecutively. The judges found the concurrent sentence order to be more appropriate.

 

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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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