High court defers to jury’s judgment, affirms enhanced meth conviction

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Deferring to the role of a jury to hear evidence and draw related inferences, the Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed a man’s enhanced conviction of dealing meth within 500 feet of a public park, finding the jury was in the best position to determine if children were “reasonably expected” to be at the park at the time of the crimes.

One morning in August 2014, when school was already back in session, police entered Corey McAlpin’s apartment and discovered he was running an active methamphetamine lab, complete with hydrochloric acid gas generators, syringes, a glass pipe and other drug paraphernalia. McAlpin was immediately arrested and was charged with Level 4 felony dealing in meth, among other charges.

McAlpin’s dealing charge would have normally been charged as a Level 5 felony, but because his apartment was located within 500 feet of Bicentennial Park in Madison, the charge was enhanced to a Level 4 felony. Neither party disputed McAlpin’s proximity to the park, but his counsel questioned whether children were “reasonably expected” to be at the park at the time of the crimes, a standard that must be met to support the charge enhancement under Indiana Code 35-48-1-16.5 (2014).

Specifically, McAlpin’s counsel argued that because there was no playground equipment at the park — only open fields, an amphitheater and public restrooms — and because school was in session, children were not reasonably expected to be at Bicentennial Park while McAlpin was manufacturing meth. The jury disagreed and convicted McAlpin on the Level 4 dealing charge, but a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision in March, with the majority finding the “reasonably expected” standard was not met.

The case of Corey McAlpin v. State of Indiana, 39S01-1705-CR-342, was then heard by the Indiana Supreme Court in June, and in a Monday opinion, the high court upheld the jury’s guilty verdict on the Level 4 felony charge.

In the Monday opinion, Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote for the unanimous court that analysis of the objective, fact-sensitive “reasonably objective” standard is best left to the jury that heard all of the evidence in the case. Considering the circumstantial evidence available to the jury — including that Bicentennial Park is surrounded by homes and offers amenities such as an amphitheater and open fields where children can run and play — the jury could reasonably infer that children were “reasonably expected” to be present at the park while McAlpin was manufacturing meth.

“Again, this may have been a close call for the jury,” Rush wrote. “Schools were in session. The park had no playground. It had no benches for resting, no shade trees to block the August sun. But the jury was free — indeed, instructed — to weigh these facts using its ‘common sense.’”

“In sum, this is a fact-sensitive issue that we ask juries to resolve by drawing — or not drawing — certain inferences,” the chief justice continued. “We ‘trust juries to make such inferential decisions’ not because they are infallible, but because they have the clearest view of the evidence to sift through subtle contextual factors.”

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