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COA affirms drug conviction, sentence

March 29, 2017

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a southern Indiana man’s drug conviction and sentence after finding that the admission of certain evidence did not violate the man’s constitutional rights.

After a package with 120 pills containing acetaminophen and tramadol was detained in Evansville as part of a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation, Detective James Budde of the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office arranged to meet with Jeremiah Erickson to set up a controlled purchase of more pills. During the meeting, Erickson admitted to the undercover officer that he had sent the original package, and he was subsequently arrested.

The state charged Erickson with Level 3 felony dealing in a scheduled IV controlled substance, but Erickson moved to suppress the evidence. The trial court denied that motion, so at trial Erickson objected to the admission of two recorded phone calls between himself and Budde while the officer was still undercover, arguing that he had not been given proper notice of their admission.

The trial court also overruled that objection, and Erickson was found guilty as charged and sentenced to 14 years in the Indiana Department of Correction. Erickson appealed in Jeremiah Edward Erickson v. State of Indiana, 82A01-1608-CR-1853, arguing that the search of the original package detained in Evansville violated the Fourth Amendment.

But Judge Margaret Robb, writing for the Indiana Court of Appeals, said in a Wednesday opinion that one exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement is found when the government obtains a valid consent to search. Specifically, Robb pointed to the case of United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 170 (1974), in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that “the consent of one who possess common authority over premises or effect is valid against the absent, nonconsenting person with whom that authority is shared.”

Based on that precedent, Robb noted a confidential informant was working with the Drug Enforcement Administration when he instructed the pills to be shipped to his home and supplied a special agent with the tracking numbers for the pills when they were shipped. Additionally, the CI provided written consent to the search of the package in Evansville, Robb said. Thus, the appellate court found that the CI had common authority over the package, so no Fourth Amendment violation occurred.

Erickson also argued the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the recorded phone conversations under Indiana Rule of Evidence 404(b) and 403. But the appellate panel also rejected those arguments, with Robb writing that defense counsel was not surprised by the recordings, the recordings were relevant to establishing Erickson’s identity and the recordings were of a high probative value that was not outweighed by any prejudice to Erickson.

Finally, Erickson argued his sentence was inappropriate, but Robb wrote he participated in an elaborate drug dealing scheme and, further, that he already had an extensive criminal history.

“Simply put, nothing about the nature of the offense or Erickson’s character persuades us his sentence is inappropriate,” the appellate judge wrote.

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