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Justices affirm trucker’s cocaine-dealing convictions

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The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the cocaine-dealing convictions of a truck driver who challenged the state police stop that led to discovery of the drugs and claimed he was denied a speedy trial.

In Patrick Austin v. State of Indiana, 20S03-1303-CR-158, troopers who initially stopped Patrick Austin allowed him to proceed after he refused consent to a search of the truck when an officer grew suspicious about driver logs and his purported destination, among other things.

Acting on those concerns, state police found Austin’s name linked to a prior $1 million bulk cash seizure in a Drug Enforcement Administration database. Austin was later stopped on a traffic infraction, after which a drug-sniffing dog indicated the presence of narcotics.

Justices affirmed the trial court convictions and 45-year aggregate sentence on two Class A felony charges, which the Court of Appeals also affirmed. The court took the case to address police action that led to the discovery and Austin’s argument that his trial violated the speedy trial window because it happened more than 70 days after his request.

Addressing the stop, Justice Steven David wrote for the court, “(W)e think this particular police operation exemplifies the balance between pursuing the law enforcement aim and protecting the constitutional rights of the suspect that the Indiana Constitution compels. … The end result was the discovery and seizure of nearly 90 pounds of cocaine hidden in a vehicle … and also the proper admission of that evidence at Austin’s trial.”

Likewise, Austin’s Criminal Rule 4 appeal claiming denial of a speedy trial was unpersuasive because the trial court produced compelling evidence of court congestion, and Austin was unable to meet his burden of showing a continuance beyond the 70-day speedy trial was clearly erroneous.

“However, we caution that ‘court congestion’ is not a blank check for poor judicial administration,” David wrote. “A defendant with adequate proof may successfully challenge a declaration of ‘court congestion’ on appeal. The protections afforded a defendant under Criminal Rule 4 are not to be trampled upon and trial courts must remain vigilant in its enforcement.”

 

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