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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. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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