COA rejects challenge to meth conviction, sentence

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A man found sitting on a container of meth has failed in his appeal of both his possession conviction and his eight-plus-year sentence.

In Roy L. Skeens v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-2889, Wabash County Sheriff’s Department officer Devin Bechtold in May 2021 stopped a vehicle being driven by Roy Skeens. As he approached the car, Bechtold observed Skeens with his right hand in his pants.

Bechtold learned that Skeens had a suspended license, while the car he was driving had expired plates that were registered to another vehicle.

The officer opened Skeens’ door and asked him to step out of the vehicle, at which point Skeens “start[ed] reaching again near the right side of his body.” Skeens closed the door, but Bechtold opened it again and called for assistance, including a K-9 unit.

Bechtold then had Skeens step out of the vehicle and observed “a small container, a green and white container that was sitting on the driver’s seat … .” The K-9 unit arrived and alerted to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle, so officers opened the container and discovered a little more than 1 gram of methamphetamine inside of it.

Skeens was subsequently charged with and convicted of Level 6 felony possession of meth, and he was also found to be a habitual offender.

The Wabash Circuit Court sentenced him to an enhanced term of 8½ years — 2½ years for the felony charge and a six-year enhancement for the habitual offender finding. The trial court found multiple aggravators but no mitigators during sentencing.

On appeal, Skeens first challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him, arguing the state did not prove that he knowingly and intentionally possessed the meth found in the container.

“We cannot agree,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the Court of Appeals of Indiana, citing to Grubbs v. State, 132 N.E.3d 451 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019).  Grubbs held that “a defendant had actual possession over contraband inside of a purse when she was observed inside a vehicle with the purse on her lap.”

“Similarly, Skeens had direct physical control over the methamphetamine, and thus actual possession of it, because he was sitting on the tin container when Officer Bechtold remove him from the vehicle,” Mathias wrote.

Short of proving actual possession, Mathias noted the state also prevailed by proving constructive possession. He pointed to Skeens’ “furtive gestures when Officer Bechtold approached the vehicle; having his hands in his pants and reaching around and fidgeting; and his close proximity to the contraband, namely, sitting on it.”

Skeens also challenged his sentence, arguing the trial court erred in not finding one of three mitigating factors: the crime “neither caused nor threatened serious harm,” he had a “life-long history of alcohol and substance abuse problems” and his mother was on life support.

But Skeens did not raise the first two mitigators to the trial court, Mathias noted, so they weren’t properly before the appellate court.

As for the third mitigator, “This argument does not explain how the purported hardship was significant or why the court was required to give it any weight. Therefore, Skeens has not met his burden of showing that the trial court abused its discretion with respect to this purported mitigating circumstance.”

Lastly, the COA rejected Skeens’ challenge to the appropriateness of his sentence.

“… Skeens presents no compelling evidence portraying in a positive light the nature of the offense — such as showing restraint or a lack of brutality — and the defendant’s character — such as showing substantial virtuous traits or persistent examples of positive attributes,” Mathias wrote. “… Thus, our deference to the trial court’s sentence prevails, and we affirm Skeens’s sentence.”

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