Justices reduce meth dealing sentence in split opinion

A divided Indiana Supreme Court has sided with an appellate judge’s dissent in a drug dealing case, lowering a woman’s decades-long sentence pursuant to Appellate Rule 7(B).

During the course of two weeks in August 2018, Brittany Mullins made four controlled buys of methamphetamine to undercover law enforcement. Roughly one week later, Mullins was arrested when police found meth and drug paraphernalia in her possession during a traffic stop, during which she readily admitted that the drugs were hers and that she was dealing.

Mullins pleaded guilty to Level 2 felony conspiracy to deal meth and two counts of Level 2 felony dealing meth in the controlled buys case, as well as one count of Level 4 felony dealing meth in the traffic stop case. In the controlled buy case, the Tippecanoe Superior Court sentenced her to 18 years – 16 years executed and two years suspended — on each of the three counts, with the sentences running concurrently.

Additionally, Mullins’ traffic stop conviction received a 6½-year sentence — four years executed and 2½ years suspended — ordered to run consecutive to the controlled-buy sentence, for an aggregate of 24½ years.

A divided Indiana Court of Appeals panel affirmed her sentence, but Judge Terry Crone dissented from the majority. He argued Mullins’ sentence was “an outlier that warrants our independent review and revision pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B).”

The majority of justices – excluding Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, who would deny transfer – agreed with the lower appellate panel that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Mullins for her drug-related offenses. However, the high court ultimately decided to exercise its constitutional authority to revise Mullins’ aggregate sentence down to 18 years.

“Here, Mullins was relatively young — 21 years old when she was arrested for these crimes. Mullins’s childhood was difficult. She was exposed to a culture of drug use and dealing at a young age and began using illegal drugs at 14, when a relative forcibly injected her with heroin,” the per curiam majority opinion reads. “Mullins was also physically and sexually abused from a very young age. At 17, she spent a short time in a treatment center for mental health, substance abuse, and addiction issues.

“Mullins married at 18. Shortly thereafter, she and her husband became homeless, often staying temporarily with acquaintances from the drug scene. During that time, she continued to be the victim of physical and sexual abuse,” the opinion continues. “Mullins has been diagnosed with significant mental health issues that have gone largely untreated. Mullins’s criminal history is not violent and includes two previous drug-possession convictions and an outstanding warrant for auto theft from early 2016.”

Finding her 24½-year aggregate sentence inappropriate, the high court ordered that Mullins’ 6½-year sentence in the traffic stop case be served concurrent with her sentences in the controlled buys case, for an aggregate 18-year sentence. It remanded to the trial court to issue a revised sentencing order consistent with its opinion in the case of Brittany Nicole Mullins v. State of Indiana, 20S-CR-451.

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