Drug conviction, sentence upheld for man found with 10 pounds of meth

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A man convicted on a dealing charge after a traffic stop uncovered 10 pounds of meth in his vehicle did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that the trial court erred in either admitting evidence or sentencing him.

The case of Alexander Regino Quintanilla v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2779, began July 15, 2018, when Hendricks County law enforcement received a tip that Alexander Quintanilla would be traveling through the county in possession of narcotics. Officers stopped Quintanilla in Avon that day for failing to use a left turn signal continuously while making a “rapid lane change” into a turn lane, then turning left.

Once stopped, a K-9 alerted on Quintanilla’s vehicle, and a subsequent search revealed 10 pounds of methamphetamine divided into one-pound bags. Quintanilla was arrested and charged with a Level 2 felony, because the amount of drugs was at least 10 grams.

Quintanilla moved to suppress the drug evidence, arguing that if he had used his left signal, “it would have been ambiguous to other motorists if he were turning left onto Gable Drive or instead into the parking lot of a nearby business.” The Hendricks Superior Court denied the suppression motion, overruled a subsequent trial objection and found Quintanilla guilty of the Level 2 felony.

In sentencing Quintanilla to 20 years, with 10 years executed, the judge noted the amount of meth found in the vehicle as an aggravating factor.

On appeal, Quintanilla first argued the stop of his vehicle was a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, thus making the drug evidence inadmissible. Specifically, he argued the turn-signal statute, Indiana Code § 9-21-8-25, does not apply because his use of the signal “would not have clearly indicated to other motorists where specifically Quintanilla intended to turn … .”

But in rejecting that argument, Judge Edward Najam on Wednesday disagreed with Quintanilla’s reliance on State v. Rhodes, 950 N.E.2d 1261 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011). He also said Quintanilla’s ambiguity argument “would create an exception that swallows the rule.”

“In any municipality of even slight population density, driveways, parking lots, cross-streets, and alleyways are often within 200 feet of each other,” Najam wrote. “To hold that the turn-signal statute does not apply under such circumstances would amount to an exemption from the turn-signal statute at many locations where it is required and beneficial. Our legislature did not intend such an absurd result.”

Quintanilla also claimed the trial court abused its sentencing discretion. Specifically, he argued the judge used an element of the Level 2 felony offense as an aggravator, because the state had to show that the amount of drugs involved was at least 10 grams to prove the Level 2 felony.

Quintanilla supported his argument with Smith v. State, 780 N.E.2d 1214, 1219 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), trans denied, which was relied on in Donnegan v. State, 809 N.E.2d 966, 978 (Ind. Ct. app. 2004), trans denied. But Najam said both of those cases have been superseded by the 2005 overhaul of Indiana’s criminal sentencing statutes.

Instead, the COA looked to I.C. 35-38-1-7.1 to uphold the sentence, writing that “trial courts have broad discretion in sentencing defendants based on the actual and specific facts of the offenses, and our trial courts may consider the degree to which the amount of drugs actually in the defendant’s possession is greater than the statutory threshold required to prove the charged offense.”

Finally, the appellate panel rejected Quintanilla’s argument that his sentence was inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and his character.

“The officers’ testimony at trial demonstrated that Quintanilla was in possession of ten pounds of methamphetamine, which, like the trial court, we consider and extraordinary quantity, which is many times the amount needed to prove the charged offense,” Najam wrote. “Further, he was alleged to have committed a new offense while on bond for the instant proceedings. While not a conviction, we agree with the trial court that this fact speaks poorly to Quintanilla’s character, as does his prior criminal history, even though it is minor.

“And the trial court suspended half of Quintanilla’s sentence to probation,” the judge concluded. “We see no sufficiently compelling evidence in this record to justify appellate relief under Rule 7(B) here.”

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