Enhanced consecutive sentences upheld in fentanyl overdose case

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A man who sold fentanyl-laced heroin to his friend that resulted in the buyer overdosing will keep his enhanced consecutive sentences, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has concluded.

Trent Weaver, who had been friends with Kyle Button for several years, sold Button heroin in November 2020 after Button asked for pain pills.

The two men exchanged direct messages through social media about how much product Button wanted to purchase, where to meet and when. When they met, Weaver held out the two bags of heroin in his hand and allowed Button to choose the bag he wanted.

At some point that night, Button used the heroin he had purchased from Weaver and went to bed. He was found dead the next day.

Police were provided access to Button’s cell phone, saw the messages that Weaver and Button had exchanged, and later discovered a plastic bag that contained 0.3 grams of heroin in his wallet.

That same day, Weaver went to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department and asked to speak with an officer. After being advised of and waiving his Miranda rights, Weaver admitted to selling Button the heroin.

An autopsy later identified the cause of Button’s death as fentanyl and morphine toxicity.

Weaver was charged with Level 5 felony counts of dealing in a narcotic drug and reckless homicide, to which he eventually pleaded guilty pursuant to an open plea.

During sentencing, the state argued Weaver should be sentenced to 4½ years for each count, to be served consecutively, while Weaver argued he should receive a three-year sentence for each count, to be served concurrently. He also maintained the dealing and reckless homicide offenses should merge because, while the offenses had different statutory elements, they were factually “the same thing.”

The Pulaski Superior Court ultimately sentenced Weaver to consecutive terms of four years each for the dealing and the reckless homicide counts, with four years served in the Indiana Department of Correction, two years on work release and two years suspended to probation.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in Trent Michael Weaver v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-2424.

The COA first noted that Weaver cannot claim the trial court is prohibited from imposing separate sentences for each offense on the grounds that his dealing offense is a lesser included offense of reckless homicide.

“Weaver entered into an open plea, pleaded guilty to both offenses, and received a sentence for each offense to which he pleaded guilty,” Judge Edward Najam wrote. “Thus, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it imposed separate sentences for his dealing and his reckless homicide convictions.”

Neither was there an abuse of discretion in imposing consecutive sentences, the appellate court concluded. It found that reckless homicide is a “crime of violence” pursuant to Indiana Code § 35-50-1-2(a)(5) and is exempt from the limitations of I.C. 35-50-1-2(d).

“And to the extent that Weaver argues that Button’s death was the result of an ‘episode of criminal conduct,’ we remind Weaver that he pleaded guilty to both dealing in a narcotic drug and reckless homicide pursuant to an open plea,” Najam added.

Lastly, the COA held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it imposed enhanced consecutive sentences.

“Here, the trial court found two additional aggravating factors, including Weaver’s criminal history. That aggravating factor, which he does not challenge, is sufficient to justify the imposition of consecutive sentences,” Najam wrote.

“… Neither can we find, as Weaver urges this Court to do, that the trial court’s sentencing statement is inadequate,” the judge continued. “The trial court’s sentencing statement in this case indicates that the trial court found Weaver’s criminal history to be an aggravating factor. And the record supports the finding of Weaver’s criminal history, which includes two felony convictions, as an aggravating factor.”

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