Court upholds convictions from controlled drug buys

March 31, 2015

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a man’s argument that his two Class B felonies for dealing in cocaine should be reversed based on prosecutorial misconduct and his limited cross-examination of the state’s confidential informant.

Wenzel Williams raised four arguments on appeal in Wenzel Williams v. State of Indiana, 48A05-1407-CR-321. He claimed the state abused its discretion by denying his motion for continuance on the morning of his jury trial; by limiting his cross-examination of the state’s confidential informant; and by allowing a police officer to testify that he witnessed Williams participate in a drug transaction. Williams also believed prosecutorial misconduct occurred during the state’s closing argument.  

Confidential informant Gayland Swaim performed two controlled drug buys from Williams as a confidential informant for the Madison County Drug Task Force. Detective Keith Gaskill witnessed the drug buys.

Williams’ attorney sought the motion for the continuance arguing in part he didn’t have enough time to depose Swaim to uncover evidence to attack Swaim’s credibility. But Judge Margret Robb pointed out that Williams was able to admit into evidence Swaim’s purportedly favorable plea agreement and Williams’ attorney could have attempted to schedule a deposition with Swaim prior to the day of the trial but did not. Robb also cited the admittance of the plea agreement in finding no abuse by the trial court in excluding some of Swaim’s criminal history.

There was also no issue with the court allowing Gaskill to testify that he witnessed a drug transaction as the testimony was not an opinion that Williams was guilty of the crime of dealing in cocaine, as Williams argued. Gaskill merely testified as to his personal observations, not whether Williams was guilty or innocent of the charged offense, Robb wrote.

Finally, the judges found no prosecutorial misconduct that amounted to a reversible error. Williams said the state’s declaration that drugs are a serious problem was an attempt to persuade the jury to convict him for a reason other than guilt.  But the prosecutor was responding to an implicit request by defense counsel for jury nullification and that Williams was an addict and his small-time drug deal did not warrant punishment. Robb pointed out that prosecutors are entitled to respond to allegations and inferences raised by the defense, even if the prosecutor’s response would otherwise be objectionable.



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