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Man's drug convictions affirmed despite evidence admission error

August 1, 2017

Though the Grant Circuit Court erred in admitting certain statements as evidence during a man’s drug trial, such error was harmless, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in affirming his drug convictions.

After accepting a social media request to connect with a user who purported to be a 21-year-old woman named Kenzie Allen, Aaron Fansler began exchanging messages and texts with Kenzie and later agreed to meet her at a local hotel to sell her some heroin. However, “Kenzie” was actually an unsworn member of a local law-enforcement drug-crime task force conducting an undercover investigation.

When Fansler arrived at the hotel room, he met “Kenzie’s brother,” who was actually a Grant County sheriff’s deputy and who assured Fansler that “Kenzie” would be arriving soon. When Fansler stepped outside the hotel to wait for her, he was arrested and taken back to the room, where he was interrogated and searched.

Officers found more than seven grams of heroin, more than a dozen pills, empty plastic bags, a digital scale, $200 cash and drug paraphernalia in Fansler’s possession. Fansler was then charged with and convicted of Level 3 felony possession of heroin with intent to deliver, Level 6 felony possession of heroin, Class A misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and Class A misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia.

Fansler was sentenced to an aggregate 13-year term, with 10 years executed in the Indiana Department of Correction and three years suspended.

On appeal in Aaron L. Fansler v. State of Indiana, 27A02-1610-CR-2325, Fansler first argued the Grant Circuit Court abused its discretion by admitting at trial two self-incriminating statements he made to law enforcement officers in the hotel room. Specifically, Fansler objected to the admission of a statement in which he told officers where they could find the heroin, and a second statement in which he told officers that he hadn’t told them about additional heroin they discovered because he didn’t want to get caught in possession of it.

In a Tuesday opinion, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias agreed the admission of those statements was erroneous under Indiana Evidence Rule 617 because no electronic recording of Fansler’s interrogation was available at trial, the hotel room was considered a “place of detention” and because his statements were not made in the course of routine processing or booking.

However, such error was harmless, Mathias said, because the fact that Fansler possessed the heroin was proven by his text messages with “Kenzie” and because he admitted to possessing the heroin in open court before the jury.

Fansler also claimed the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him by not considering that “Kenzie” induced or facilitated the offense as a mitigating factor. The appellate court also rejected that argument, with Mathias noting trial court did consider such a mitigator when it said, “(I)f the victim causing the offense is a mitigator, it’s a mild one... .” However, the court determined such a mitigator was not entitled to any great weight, he wrote.

 

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