COA: No error in admitting cell phone records, testimony

June 28, 2018

A man convicted of dealing narcotics and methamphetamine argued that evidence admitted from his cell phone and the opinion of a drug force detective were inadmissible, but the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected those claims Thursday.

After seeing a Ford Mustang cross the center line several times, a deputy of the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Department conducted a traffic stop of Kevin Shawn Carter’s vehicle. While searching the vehicle, the deputy found a bag between the front seats that contained a syringe and spoon, as well as a container with several plastic bags that contained approximately 205 grams of methamphetamine and approximately 27.5 grams of heroin.

Carter was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 36 years for Level 2 felonies dealing in a narcotic drug and dealing in methamphetamine, as well as being a habitual offender.

Police later obtained a warrant to search cell phones belonging to Carter and the woman who was driving the car. Carter moved to suppress that evidence before his trial began, but the motion was denied. At trial, Carter objected to the admission of cell phone evidence, and the court held a conference outside the presence of the jury and determined eight messages from his phone to be admissible.

The state’s evidence also included a local drug task force detective who had encountered heroin and methamphetamine “hundreds of times as a police officer,” and who opined that the quantity of heroin seized was “typical of a dealer amount,” to which Carter did not object.

The appellate court found that Carter’s cell phone records were not inadmissible because the warrant obtained to search the phone was effective and constitutionally obtained by police. It also found the search to be reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.

“Carter asserts that the warrant authorized a broad search of his device for all information that might supply indicia of ownership, rendering the warrant an impermissible general warrant,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote Thursday. “Carter points out that the police extracted ‘all the information on the cell phone,’ thereby generating ‘a document of roughly a thousand pages, which was then analyzed for criminal activity.’

“However, the warrant specifically described the place law enforcement could search —the phone recovered from Carter — and specifically described what law enforcement could search for — (1) ‘any information relating to calls, messages, including Facebook messages and accounts,’ and (2) ‘all information … that would indicate the identity of the phone’s owner/user.’”

The court also found the detective’s opinion testimony was not inadmissible under Indiana Code Section 35-48-4-1(a)(2).

“Rather, the statute eliminates the State’s burden of presenting additional intent evidence when there is evidence that the drug weighed at least twenty-eight grams,” Bailey continued. “Put another way, once the State has introduced evidence that the defendant possessed the statutory amount, there is sufficient evidence to establish the defendant’s intent to deliver the drug.”

The case is Kevin Shawn Carter v. State of Indiana, 17A-CR-3024.






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