7th Circuit affirms meth conviction, sentence for man on home detention

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A search that uncovered 388 grams of methamphetamine and led to a man’s conviction did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights because he waived them as part of his home detention, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in affirming a district court’s judgment.

The 7th Circuit also affirmed sentencing enhancements.

In August 2020, Travis Beechler and his girlfriend were serving terms of home detention confinement through Marion County Community Corrections and were required to stay in their separate residences.

At the time, the FBI Safe Streets Gang Task Force was doing a wiretap investigation involving people distributing controlled substances, and agents discovered a target of the investigation expected a shipment of marijuana to arrive at the girlfriend’s residence.

Agents noticed a man with an ankle monitor and reported to community corrections that it suspected one of the occupants was on home confinement and might be engaged in drug trafficking.

An employee, accompanied by an Indianapolis police officer, went to the girlfriend’s residence for a compliance check, and there they saw both Beechler and his girlfriend. They also discovered meth.

Officers then obtained a search warrant and seized five firearms, ammunition and more evidence of drug trafficking, including 388.4 grams of meth, 10.6 grams of heroin and about $1,500 in cash.

Beechler was charged with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon.

Beechler was taken into custody and agreed to an interview, acknowledging that he stored the drugs at the home for another person in exchange for free rent, that he had the ability to sell pounds of meth at a time, that others often fronted him up to five pounds of meth and that he tried to make at least $1,000 for each pound he sold.

He also acknowledged guns in the home, admitted that he knew they were loaded and said they were to protect the drugs.

Beechler filed a motion to suppress the evidence recovered from the compliance check, claiming although law enforcement labeled the search as a community corrections compliance check, officers actually conducted the search for law enforcement purposes, making it a warrantless search that violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

The U.S. District for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, denied the motion, finding Beechler waived his Fourth Amendment rights as a condition of the home detention agreement.

A jury convicted Beechler on all counts.

Beechler moved for a judgment of acquittal and a new trial, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions.

The court denied his post-trial motions, ruling he simply restated his suppression arguments.

The district court applied four sentencing enhancements: the “manager or supervisor” enhancement, the “drug premises” enhancement, an enhancement for having five firearms and the “career offender” enhancement. He was sentenced to 30 years.

On appeal, Beechler challenged the court’s denial of his motion to suppress and his motion for a judgement of acquittal and new trial. He also challenged the court’s application of the sentencing enhancements.

The 7th Circuit affirmed all rulings.

In affirming the denial of Beechler’s motion to suppress, the 7th Circuit ruled that when assessing privacy expectations for a person in the correctional system, said it has to weigh factors including the level of supervision to which the person has been subjected with the government’s interest in protecting the public and reducing recidivism.

Beechler’s status on home confinement, the court ruled, “significantly diminished his expectations of privacy.” The court also noted the clarity of Beechler’s home confinement agreement, which contained a waiver of Fourth Amendment rights.

“Beechler unambiguously waived his rights under the Fourth Amendment,” the 7th Circuit ruled, adding the state had an interest in supervising him to ensure compliance with the terms of his agreement.

In affirming the denial of Beechler’s motion for a judgment of acquittal and a new trial, the 7th Circuit noted his argument depends on the finding that the motion to suppress evidence should have been granted.

“Having determined that the district court properly denied his motion to suppress, however, we can consider this evidence in assessing the jury’s verdict,” the 7th Circuit said in ruling the government presented “more than sufficient evidence” of Beechler’s guilt to support the jury’s verdict.

That evidence, the court said, included the interview Beechler gave in which he admitted to selling large quantities of drugs and aiming to make at least $1,000 for every pound sold.

In affirming the district court’s application of the sentencing enhancements, the 7th Circuit ruled the district court didn’t commit reversible error with any of the enhancements.

The “drug premises” enhancement, for example, requires that manufacturing or distributing controlled substances must be one of the primary uses of the premises, even if it’s not the sole purpose. The 7th Circuit noted the finding that Beechler stored large quantities of drugs meant for sale and received free rent in exchange for safeguarding the drugs.

For the “career offender” enhancement, the 7th Circuit said Beechler waived his argument by failing to properly develop it on appeal.

Still, the court ruled the claim would fail anyway. Beechler argued the prior felony conviction the district court used for the enhancement doesn’t qualify because he committed it when he was 17 and the case was improperly waived to adult court. But the 7th Circuit said a defendant can’t attack the validity of a previous state conviction unless it was obtained in a proceeding where the defendant was denied their right to counsel.

The 7th Circuit also ruled that even if Beechler was correct, it would still affirm his sentence because any error in applying the enhancements would be harmless.

Judge Ilana Rovner wrote the opinion.

The case is United State of America v. Travis Lee Beechler, 21-3379.

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