Ind. Supreme Court to decide if evidence errors mean drug convictions should be tossed

The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether errors in the admission of certain evidence during a man’s drug trial warrant reversal of the man’s multiple drug convictions.

The high court unanimously granted transfer to the case of Aaron Lee Fansler v. State of Indiana, 27S02-1710-CR-672, last week. In that case, Fansler was convicted on felony and misdemeanor drug charges after an undercover officer posed as a 21-year-old woman wanting to buy heroin. Fansler exchanged text messages with “Kenzie” and agreed to meet her at a hotel to sell her heroin, but was arrested by officers when he arrived.

On appeal, Fansler argued the Grant Circuit Court abused its discretion when it admitted two self-incriminating statements he made to law enforcement officers in the hotel room where he was arrested. Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias agreed the admission of those statements was erroneous because no electronic recording on 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 court of routine processing or booking.

However, Mathias also found in an August opinion that such error was harmless because Fansler’s texts with “Kenzie” proved he was in possession of heroin. Mathias also noted Fansler had admitted to possessing the heroin in open court before the jury.

The justices also unanimously granted transfer to the case of The Care Group Heart Hospital v. Roderick J. Sawyer, M.D., 49S05-1710-PL-6781, in which a fired doctor sued his former employer for breach of contract and tortious interference. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the hospital’s motion to dismiss Sawyer’s complaint, but reversed the award of attorney fees.

Sawyer claimed he had incurred “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in legal fees due to the hospital’s misconduct during discovery, but the trial court only awarded him $27,233.19 in attorney fees, based on the hospital’s calculations. In a June opinion, appellate Judge Elaine Brown said the trial court abused its discretion in relying exclusively on the hospital’s calculations to determine the proper amount of attorney fees. 

Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled in either case.

The justices denied transfer to 22 other cases last week. The full list of transfer decisions can be read here

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