7th Circuit upholds meth convictions

January 25, 2018

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld an Indiana man’s multiple drug convictions after finding no error during his district court trial.

In United States of America v. Ronald Tingle, 17-1604, the Indiana State Police received a tip that Ronald Tingle was selling methamphetamine. Authorities subsequently began conducting controlled buys through a confidential informant. Police then obtained a warrant and discovered 165 grams of meth, more than $6,000 and firearms in Tingle’s home.

Tingle was charged with possession of meth with intent to distribute, three counts of distribution and a forfeiture action. After he rejected a plea deal, the government obtained two superseding indictments against Tingle that increased his possible mandatory minimum sentence.

The Indiana Southern District Court denied Tingle’s motion to dismiss the additional charges and for disclosure of grand jury testimony, but told the government during trial that it would not label any witnesses as experts pursuant to courtroom procedures. However, the court ultimately gave a final jury instruction on expert witnesses without identifying which witnesses were considered experts.

During the trial, Drug Enforcement Administration agent Steele testified on the amount of drugs and the location of the guns found in Tingle’s home. A jury then convicted him, and he appealed.

On appeal, Tingle first argued the district court erred by allowing the agent to testify as an expert without certifying his credentials. But 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Kanne wrote Thursday it was “clear that Steele was properly qualified to testify as an expert in his field” considering his extensive DEA career and related training and experience. However, the court should have identified Steel as an expert pursuant to Supreme Court precedent and the Federal Rules of Evidence, Kanne said.

Tingle next argued Steele improperly testified regarding his mental state when he testified that the amount of drugs in the home was “definitely for distribution” and that the location of the gun signified it was meant to protect the drug business. But when taken in context, Steele’s comments were framed in light of his training on how much meth one person normally uses and the significance of the placement of firearms in a home, Kanne said, and thus were not inadmissible.

Finally, Tingle argued the court erred in denying his motion access to the grand jury transcripts, but the 7th Circuit found Tingle failed to prove his need for disclosure of the otherwise secret transcripts. Similarly, it was not error for the trial court to deny his motion to dismiss the superseding indictments under Alabama v. Smith, 490 U.S. 794, 802 (1989), the court said.



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