COA splits over length of woman’s consecutive sentences for drug dealing 

The Indiana Court of Appeals divided Thursday on a woman’s consecutive sentences for drug dealing convictions, with a dissenting judge contending her 24½-year term should be shorter.

After selling undercover agents 61 grams of methamphetamine through controlled buys, Brittany Mullins faced numerous charges, including Level 2 felony conspiracy to commit dealing in methamphetamine and three counts of Level 2 felony dealing in methamphetamine, among others.

One week after the controlled buy, a traffic stop revealed Mullins to be a passenger in a van that contained more than three grams of meth, scales, baggies, a marijuana pipe, syringes, and a drug transaction ledger. Once Mullins admitted the items were hers and that she was dealing meth, the state charged her in a separate cause with Level 4 felony dealing in methamphetamine and other counts.

In a plea agreement, Mullins pleaded guilty to Level 2 felony conspiracy to commit dealing in meth and two counts of Level 2 felony dealing in meth in the first cause and to Level 4 felony dealing in meth in the second cause. Her remaining counts were ultimately dismissed.

Mullins was sentenced to 18 years for each of her Level 2 felonies to run concurrently because they were controlled buys. Likewise, the trial court sentenced Mullins to 6½ years for her Level 4 felony conviction. The sentences in both causes were ordered to run consecutively to each other because the trial court found that the second cause “was a separate traffic stop in which they found a lot of meth on her at that time. It involved different officers. It was a random stop when she was on the streets, a passenger in a car, and it was not related to a controlled buy.”

Mullins appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering the sentences to run consecutively, directing the appellate court to Beno v. State, 581 N.E.2d 922 (Ind. 1991) in support of her argument. However, the appellate court noted that the trial court acknowledged and distinguished Beno when it ordered the sentences to run consecutively.

“We agree with the State that ‘the trial court followed the Beno holding and subsequent cases when it imposed concurrent sentences in [Cause Number 18], but it was not prevented by that precedent from ordering those convictions to run consecutively to the sentence in [Cause Number 34] for an unrelated offense.’ We find no abuse of the trial court’s discretion,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the appellate majority, joined by Judge Melissa May.

Additionally, the appellate majority found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s consideration of the total amount of drugs that Mullins sold during a three-week span as an aggravating factor.

“We further note that even if the trial court had erred in identifying this aggravating factor, we would not remand Mullins’ case to the trial court for resentencing,” the majority wrote, finding confidence that the trial court would have imposed the same sentence irrespective of its consideration of the seriousness of the offense.

Judge Terry Crone, while agreeing with his colleagues that the imposition of consecutive sentences did not constitute an abuse of discretion, dissented “because the sentence in this case is an outlier that warrants our independent review and revision pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B).”

“Given the nonviolent nature of Mullins’s offenses, the value of the drugs and relatively brief time involved, her young age, and her traumatic childhood, I believe that the twenty-four and a half-year aggregate sentence created by consecutive sentences is inappropriate,” Crone wrote in a separate opinion. “I would exercise our authority under Appellate Rule 7(B) to revise Mullins’s sentences to have the sentences in the two causes to run concurrently for an aggregate term of eighteen years.”

The case is Brittany Nicole Mullins v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-1993.

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