Court divided over drug sentence

December 10, 2015

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a man’s convictions for making and delivering methamphetamine, but the judges did not agree that the 32-year sentence imposed by the trial court was appropriate.

Ronald L. Eckelbarger was convicted of three counts of Class B felony dealing in methamphetamine – two by delivery and one by manufacturing – and one count of Class D felony possession of chemical reagents or precursors with intent to manufacture a controlled substance.

His girlfriend, Rebecca Markley, agreed to act as a confidential informant for the state in order to avoid repercussions of a probation violation. She performed two controlled drug buys for methamphetamine from Eckelbarger a week apart. She provided him the pseudoephedrine pills and he provided her meth. A day after the second controlled buy, officers obtained and executed a search warrant, where officers found many items and ingredients needed to make meth.

Eckelbarger contended that his three Class B felony convictions violate the prohibition against double jeopardy and his sentence should be revised because his convictions arise out of an episode of criminal conduct.

The trial court sentenced Eckelbarger to 16 years with four years suspended on each of Counts I, II, and III. As to Count IV, the trial court sentenced Eckelbarger to three years. The trial court ordered the sentences on Counts I and II to be served concurrent with one another and consecutive to the sentence on Count III. The sentence on Count IV was ordered to run concurrently with the sentence on Count III.

The judges concluded that Eckelbarger’s acts of delivering methamphetamine and manufacturing methamphetamine were not part of the same continuous offense, so his convictions do not constitute double jeopardy.

And because the crimes were distinct in nature and not part of a continuous transaction, his crimes were not part of a single episode of criminal conduct, Judge Robert Altice wrote. Because of this, the trial court was not constrained to impose a sentence capped at the 30-year advisory sentence for a Class A felony.

Altice and Judge Elaine Brown voted to keep his 32-year sentence in place, but Judge Patricia Riley believed it should be revised based on Williams v. State, 891 N.E.2d 621 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). Williams was a similar case to Eckelbarger’s in which the court reasoned that the state may not “pile on” sentences by postponing prosecution in order to gather more evidence. She would elect to order an aggregate term of 16 years, with 12 executed and 4 suspended to probation.

The case is Ronald L. Eckelbarger v. State of Indiana, 90A02-1503-CR-188.



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