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COA upholds conviction, trims sentence in heroin case

May 18, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a man’s conviction but reduced his sentence for dealing heroin even though he didn’t actually participate in the transaction in one of the counts.

Joshua Schaaf drove accomplice Randall Conliff to a gas station where a confidential informant purchased $50 worth of heroin from Conliff while Schaaf looked on. Later, the informant went back to Conliff’s house for more heroin, but the informant was turned him away and purchased heroin from Schaaf. Conliff’s house was within 1,000 feet of a park, so while Schaaf was sentenced to 15 years for the first transaction, he was sentenced to 40 years for the second.

Schaaf argued that because he did not actually participate in the first transaction, the evidence was not sufficient to uphold that conviction, but the COA in an opinion written by Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik disagreed. She cited Indiana Code 35-41-2-4, which says a person who knowingly helps a person commit a crime is also guilty of committing that crime. Also, Schaaf met all four factors of an Indiana Supreme Court test which judges whether a person can be convicted of a crime as an accomplice.

Schaaf argued he didn’t know he was driving his friend to sell heroin; he thought they were just going to get high. However, the trial court didn’t buy that, and the COA said it wouldn’t second guess the judgment of the trial court.

On the second count, Schaaf argues the enhancement from a Class B felony to Class A felony shouldn’t be valid because Schaaf didn’t know he was within 1,000 feet of a park. However, Vaidik wrote that Schaaf didn’t need to know he was that close in order for the enhancement to be applied. There were changes to Indiana’s criminal code in 2014 that might have changed this outcome, but those did not take effect until two months after Schaff’s crime.

Schaaf also argued his sentence should be reduced and on this the COA agreed in a split decision. Vaidik wrote in a majority opinion joined by Judge Michael Barnes that Schaaf’s offenses were “relatively minor as drug deals go,” as he sold small amounts of heroin to an informant. While there were aggravating factors such as his criminal history, the trial court’s sentence was too harsh. The COA remanded for resentencing to 10 years for the first offense and 30 for the second, and like the first sentence ordered them to run concurrently.

Judge Paul Mathias dissented in a separate one-paragraph opinion, saying he believed the sentence was appropriate given Schaaf’s criminal history and the offenses.

The case is Joshua Schaaf v State of Indiana, 85A04-1506-CR-796.
 

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