COA rejects challenge to text message evidence, upholds meth dealing conviction

A man convicted of dealing meth based largely on text messages failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that the messages were improperly admitted at his trial.

In Jason Schnitzmeyer v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-1311, Jason Schnitzmeyer allowed law enforcement into his home after the shooting death of a friend, Brad McKinney. Schnitzmeyer was not charged in connection with McKinney’s death, but searches of his home revealed a pipe that contained methamphetamine residue and Schnitzmeyer’s DNA.

Officers also obtained Schnitzmeyer’s cellphone and found text messages with McKinney involving “trades” that officers believed was an agreement for Schnitzmeyer to deliver meth to McKinney in exchange for electronic items. McKinney occasionally sold electronic gadgets to Schnitzmeyer, and the messages showed Schnitzmeyer told McKinney, “I know you don’t have money, that’s why there is never a money exchange between us. It’s always a tradeoff matter.”

Thus, Schnitzmeyer was charged and eventually convicted of dealing in meth as a Level 3 felony and pleaded guilty to being a habitual offender. He received an aggregate sentence of nine years, with three years suspended.

On appeal, Schnitzmeyer challenged the admission of the text messages with McKinney at his trial in Marion Superior Court, claiming error under Indiana Evidence Rules 403 and 404(b). He had filed a motion in limine under Rule 403 before his trial and raised a fundamental error challenge as to Rule 404(b) on appeal.

But the Court of Appeals affirmed under both rules, with Judge Melissa May writing that the messages corroborated law enforcement testimony that the two men had discussed drugs using “euphemisms” in their texts and that Schnitzmeyer had a pattern of exchanging drugs for gadgets. Thus, the messages were relevant and permissible under Rule 403, and “any prejudice does not substantially outweigh the highly probative value of the text messages.”

Likewise, the COA found no fundamental error under Rule 404(b), pointing to the rule’s “intent” exception.

“Because intent is a crucial consideration in crimes of drug possession and dealing where the State is burdened with proving both intent to possess and intent to deal, Schnitzmeyer’s text messages were informative for the purposes of reconciling whether his intent was truly to possess the drugs for personal use or to deliver them to McKinney,” May wrote.

“We consider the contested text messages relevant and instructive in demonstrating Schnitzmeyer’s intent, relationships, and identity, and thereby permissible under Evidence Rule 404(b),” May continued. “As demonstrated by our Rule 403 relevancy analysis … although inclusion of the messages may prompt a jury to consider Schnitzmeyer’s prior discussions of methamphetamine as an indication that on March 30, 2018, he acted in accordance with his prior acts, this does not substantially outweigh the highly probative value of the text messages themselves. This determination satisfies the second part of the Rule 404(b) admissibility analysis and demonstrates the trial court did not commit fundamental error by admitting this evidence.”

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