Lafayette man fails to persuade COA that meth dealing convictions should be reversed

  • Print
IL file photo

Any error in the admission of Facebook messages that showed evidence of a Lafayette man’s drug deals was harmless, the Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed Wednesday.

In January 2021, Deputy Ryan Holloway of the Newton County Sheriff’s Department brought his K-9 unit to the scene of a traffic stop in Goodland involving a vehicle in which Joshua Sweet was a passenger.

After the K-9 officer alerted to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle, Holloway searched the vehicle and found what a field test and weighing at the scene indicated was approximately 9.5 grams of methamphetamine, as well as paraphernalia and a digital scale.

Holloway confronted Sweet about the meth, and Sweet told Holloway that he had procured it from Michael Doyle. Sweet said Doyle was deadline drugs at the local Red Roof Inn.

Holloway had known Sweet for several years, and Sweet had provided the deputy with reliable information in the past. He forwarded this information to the Lafayette Police Department.

LPD officers went to the Red Roof Inn with a K-9 unit, who alerted to the presence of narcotics in Room 102.

Based on this alert, the officers procured a search warrant for the room, which they executed that day.

No one was in the room when the officers entered.

The LPD officers found 11 baggies of what was later determined to be at least 49.48 grams of meth in the top drawer of the room’s dresser/wall unit.

In the same drawer officers found two baggies, one of which was later determined to contain .65 grams of cocaine, two glass pipes commonly used to smoke meth, and a digital scale which was later found to have Doyle’s DNA on it.

While officers were still on the scene, a silver Nissan sedan pulled up outside. Officers recognized Doyle as the passenger in the Nissan and took him into custody.

Doyle told the officers that he had been in and out of Room 102 over the previous day or two.

Doyle was subsequently charged with various drug offenses.

During his trial, the Tippecanoe Superior Court held a hearing on the admissibility of messages from Doyle’s Facebook account. In the messages, Doyle arranged drug deals with several individuals, including Sweet and Smith.

Doyle objected that the proffered evidence was inadmissible character evidence prohibited by Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b) and that the evidence was irrelevant, given that it was unrelated to the charges before the jury.

The trial court admitted the evidence over Doyle’s objection pursuant to the “common scheme” exception to Rule 404(b) in that it showed Doyle’s drug dealing over a period of time.

A jury found Doyle guilty of two counts of dealing in meth, and he admitted to being a habitual offender.

The trial court sentenced him to an aggregate 28-year sentence, with 24 years executed and four years suspended to probation.

Doyle appealed his convictions, challenging the admission of Sweet’s Jan. 14, 2021, statements to Holloway, which Doyle argued violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation and the Indiana Rules of Evidence.

Doyle also argued that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of uncharged conduct and when it refused his proffered instruction on circumstantial evidence.

The Court of Appeals, finding that Sweet’s statements were properly admitted, any error in the admission of Doyle’s Facebook messages was harmless, and that the trial court acted within its discretion when it rejected his proposed instruction.

Judge Patricia Riley wrote the opinion for the appellate court.

According to Riley, the appellate court agreed with the trial court’s ruling that the state had met its burden of proof to establish Doyle’s forfeiture by wrongdoing.

According to Riley, Doyle placed a Jan. 29, 2021, call to arrange to have his stepson batter Sweet after Doyle had been charged with four criminal offenses and after he had learned that Sweet had incriminated him.

“Within the context and circumstances of this case, the natural consequence of Doyle’s communication was to intimidate Sweet into not cooperating with the State,” Riley wrote.

Doyle placed the second of the relevant calls during his trial after he was present in open court when a body attachment warrant had been issued for Sweet.

“After Doyle made these calls, Sweet again expressed concern for his family’s safety and did not, in fact, appear for trial. The timing of Doyle’s calls close to a previously scheduled trial date and within Doyle’s actual trial also permits a reasonable inference that his communications were intended to procure Sweet’s absence for trial,” Riley wrote.

Doyle contended that the challenged Facebook message evidence was admitted in contravention to Rule 404(b) because it served only to show his propensity to deal drugs and that the evidence was not admissible for any other permitted purpose.

He also argued that the prejudicial effect of the evidence of his prior dealing greatly outweighed its probative value. The state countered that the challenged evidence was admissible to show Doyle’s knowledge of the drugs found in Room 102 and that its admission was not barred by Indiana Evidence Rule 403.

Riley wrote that there was substantial evidence of Doyle’s drug dealing apart from the challenged evidence.

In addition, at Doyle’s request, the trial court issued an instruction that the evidence of Doyle’s prior dealing as contained in his Facebook messages could not be considered by the jury as showing that he had acted in conformity with that conduct for purposes of the instant charges, Riley noted.

“On appeal, Doyle does not address the trial court’s instruction to the jury at all, let alone provide us with any indication that the jury did not follow this instruction,” Riley wrote.

The appellate court also rejected Doyle’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion in declining to give Doyle’s proffered instruction on circumstantial evidence.

“Even if the State’s case on the other charges was purely circumstantial, Doyle did not proffer any alternate instruction limiting his instruction to other charged offenses apart from the Level 3 felony dealing charge,” Riley wrote.

Judges Terry Crone and Paul Mathias concurred.

The case is Michael Ambrose Doyle, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 23A-CR-604.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}