The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a man’s various drug, handgun and resisting law enforcement convictions Wednesday after holding that the man was aware of the contraband in his vehicle and that his operation of the vehicle resulted in a passenger’s death.
In Matthew James Cole v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1603-CR-542, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Office Timothy Elliott stopped a vehicle being driven by Matthew Cole after observing the car traveling at a high rate of speed. Based on Cole’s evasive demeanor and physical appearance, Elliott believed Cole was under the influence of drugs.
When Elliott walked toward the back of the car to get the license plate number, the car sped away. Cole then led Elliott and other responding officers on a high-speed chase that ended only after Cole crashed through a fence in a residential backyard.
Both Cole and his passenger, Joshua Dyer, refused to comply with orders to exit the vehicle with their hands up. Another responding office, Derrick Harper, saw Dyer make a motion that looked as if he had a gun in his hand. Cole then put the car in reverse and accelerated, fishtailing toward both officers and trapping Harper between the car and the fence.
In response to the oncoming car and his belief that Dyer was preparing to open fire, Harper shot and fatally wounded Dyer. Cole eventually surrendered, and a search of his car revealed three handguns, ammunition and various drug paraphernalia.
Cole was charged and convicted on various felony and misdemeanor counts, including resisting law enforcement, possession of an altered handgun, possession of methamphetamine, possession of a narcotic drug, carrying a handgun without a license and possession of paraphernalia. On appeal, Cole argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions of resisting law enforcement, possession of an altered handgun, possession of a narcotic drug and carrying a handgun without a license.
Specifically, Cole argued that the evidence did not support the elevation of his resisting law enforcement charge to a Level 3 felony because the state did not prove that Cole’s operation of the car, not Harper’s gunfire, caused Dyer’s death.
But Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Robert Altice, writing for the unanimous panel, said Cole created a situation in which Harper’s only option was to open fire at Dyer. Although Harper was not able to get a clear shot at Cole, he is not relieved of the responsibility for the foreseeable results of his actions, Altice wrote, so the elevation of his resisting law enforcement conviction was appropriate.
Cole then argued that the state did not prove that he knew one of the handguns in the car had been altered by means of an obliterated serial number. But because the altered gun was within Cole’s reach in the vehicle and was designed to fit the size of the holster on his belt, the appellate panel found that the evidence was also sufficient to show that Cole knew the gun had been altered.
Cole further asserted that he was wrongfully convicted of possessing a narcotic, heroin, found on Dyer’s body during the autopsy, but Altice noted that the substance found on Dyer was actually meth. Further, the judge wrote that Cole’s heroin conviction stemmed from heroin residue on a spoon and a baggie of heroin found in the car.
Finally, the appellate panel rejected Cole’s argument that the state did not prove that he knew two of the three unlicensed handguns were in the vehicle. As with the altered handgun, Altice wrote that the “sheer ubiquity of ammunition and firearm accessories throughout the entire car was more than sufficient to support an inference that Cole had control of the car with knowledge of the guns’ presence.”