Aaron L. Fansler, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff
from the Grant Circuit Court The Honorable Mark E. Spitzer,
Judge Trial Court Cause No. 27C01-1506-F3-15
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Evan K. Hammond Office of the Grant
County Public Defender Marion, Indiana
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Eric P. Babbs Angela Sanchez Deputy Attorneys
General Indianapolis, Indiana
Aaron L. Fansler ("Fansler") was convicted after a
jury trial in Grant Circuit Court of dealing heroin and other
drug crimes, and was sentenced to ten years in the Department
of Correction. Fansler now appeals the admission of two
self-incriminating statements and the exercise of the
court's sentencing discretion.
and Procedural Posture
On June 18, 2015, Fansler received a request over a social
media network to connect with a user who appeared to be a
twenty-one-year-old woman named "Kenzie Allen."
"Kenzie Allen" was in fact an unsworn member of a
local law-enforcement drug-crime task force conducting an
undercover investigation. Fansler accepted the request. By
private messages exchanged over the network, and then by text
messages over their cell phones, "Kenzie" invited
Fansler to a room at a local hotel. The hotel owner was
friendly with police and would allow them the use of a room
for undercover operations without charge. "Kenzie"
wanted to buy two "points, " or tenths of a gram,
of heroin from Fansler.
On the evening of June 19, 2015, lured by the prospects of
sex, companionship, and a drug sale, Fansler went to the
hotel room indicated by "Kenzie." There, he found
"Kenzie's brother, " a Grant County
sheriff's deputy and a member of the same drug-crime task
force. "Kenzie" was not in the hotel room, but
Fansler was assured she would arrive soon. As Fansler stepped
outside the hotel to wait, he was arrested by waiting law
enforcement officers and taken back to
"Kenzie's" hotel room. Once inside, Fansler was
interrogated and searched. Fansler had brought with him more
than seven grams net weight of heroin, more than a dozen
clonazepam and oxycodone pills, numerous empty plastic bags,
a digital scale, a hypodermic syringe, a tourniquet, and more
than two hundred dollars cash.
On June 24, 2015, Fansler was charged by information in Grant
Circuit Court with Level 3 possession of heroin with intent
to deliver, Level 6 felony possession of heroin, Class A
misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, and Class A
misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia. Fansler's case
was tried to a Grant County jury over two days, August 1 and
August 2, 2016. Fansler admitted the possession but denied
the intent to deliver, and raised the affirmative defense of
entrapment. However, the jury was not persuaded and found him
guilty as charged on all four counts.
At a sentencing hearing on September 9, 2016, Fansler was
sentenced to a thirteen-year term on the dealing charge, ten
years executed in the Department of Correction and three
years suspended. Fansler was further sentenced to concurrent
terms of two years executed for possession of heroin, one
year executed for possession of a controlled substance, and
one year executed for possession of paraphernalia. This
appeal timely followed.
Fansler presents two issues for our review: whether the trial
court abused its discretion by admitting two
self-incriminating statements made by Fansler to law
enforcement officers after being Mirandized in the hotel
room, over Fansler's objection on the basis of Indiana
Evidence Rule 617; and whether the sentencing court abused
its discretion by failing to find a significant mitigating
circumstance clearly supported by the record and advanced for
Admission of Fansler's Statements Was Harmless Error
At trial, a witness for the State testified to two
self-incriminating statements made by Fansler in the hotel
room. The first was related as follows:
[State:] What questions were asked of [Fansler] after [the
warning required by] Miranda [v. Arizona,
384 U.S. 436 (1966)] was read to him?
[Defense objection overruled.]
[Witness:] I asked him where the two points of heroin
[State:] And what was his response?
[Witness:] Stated that they should be in the baggies.
Tr. Vol. I, p. 147. Two packages of heroin weighing two
tenths of a gram net each were recovered from a cigarette
pack carried by Fansler.
From the same cigarette pack, law enforcement recovered
"another clear plastic baggy that contained a large
amount of gray compressed powder[, ]" eventually
determined to be more heroin. Id. at 149. In
connection with this larger package, Fansler's second
statement was related by the same witness as follows:
[State:] Did you ask [Fansler] about the large compressed
powder when you found it?
[Witness:] I did.
[State:] What did you ask ...