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COA affirms drug convictions

January 27, 2017

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the convictions of a man convicted on a litany of drug-related charges after finding that the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions and that there were no constitutional violations or court errors that harmed his case.

When Christine Unversaw returned to her home one morning in April 2015, she saw a strange vehicle in her driveway with a man later identified as Roger Wilkinson slumped over the front seat, rocking back and forth and acting disoriented and unsteady.

When police arrived on the scene, officers opened the doors of the vehicle and found a plastic vial, a partially filled bottle of rum and a hand-rolled cigarette believed to be a marijuana cigarette. Although the officers did not smell alcohol on Wilkinson, they thought he might have been under the influence of illegal drugs.

Further search of Wilkinson’s vehicle and body found a syringe and a small glass jar. The officers also discovered that the plastic vial contained plastic bags filled with methamphetamine and a hand-rolled cigarette. Wilkinson declined to take a field sobriety test, and he was arrested and taken to jail.

A blood sample taken at the jail tested positive for amphetamine, meth and THC, and active component of marijuana, while tests of the cigarettes and the substances in the plastic bags were found to contain marijuana and meth. Wilkinson was charged with eight drug-related offenses related to possession, paraphernalia and operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Wilkinson moved pre-trial to suppress the items found in his vehicle, but the Spencer Circuit Court denied his motion and admitted the evidence over his objection. He was found guilty of five of the eight charges against him and sentenced to an aggregate of six years.

Post-trial, Wilkinson moved to correct error, alleging juror misconduct. It was discovered that two jurors failed to disclose that they knew Brett Cieslack, a state witness whose car Wilkinson was found in at the time of the incident. However, the trial court denied Wilkinson’s request for a new trial.

On appeal in Roger Wilkinson v. State of Indiana, 74A05-1603-CR-741, Wilkinson first argued that the state failed to present sufficient evidence for two of his convictions – operating a vehicle while intoxicated and operating a vehicle with a Schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in the body. Specifically, Wilkinson alleged that security video from the Unversaw home showing the same vehicle he was found in exiting the road that ran in front of the house and entering the driveway was not presented at trial. 

But the Indiana Court of Appeals found that there was sufficient evidence to support those convictions Friday, with Senior Judge Betty Barteau writing that based on testimony from Unversaw, who said the vehicle had not been in her driveway when she left her house that morning, testimony from officers who had reviewed the security video and the blood samples that tested positive for Schedule I and II substances, “the jury could have reasonably concluded that Wilkinson operated the gray BMW while intoxicated.”

Wilkinson further argued that the warrantless search of his vehicles was conducted in violation of the state and federal constitutions, contending that the officers had no legitimate reason to conduct the search.

But Barteau wrote that the search was permitted under the medical assistance and automobile exceptions, the plain view doctrine and search incident to arrest. Similarly, the appellate panel found that the search was constitutional under state law because it met the three requirements of the test set out in Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 359 (Ind. 2005).

Finally, Wilkinson contended that he should have been granted a new trial when the court learned that two of the jurors knew Cieslack because such knowledge deprived him of a fair trial.

While Barteau did concede that the jurors should have disclosed their relationships with Cieslack, those relationships were casual. Further, the panel found that Wilkinson failed to show that he was harmed by the lack of the disclosure. Thus, the trial court was within its discretion to deny his motion to correct error.

 

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