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Fansler v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 1, 2017

Aaron L. Fansler, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

         Appeal 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

          Mathias, Judge.

         [¶1] 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.

         [¶2] We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural Posture

         [¶3] 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.

         [¶4] 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.

         [¶5] 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.

         [¶6] 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.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶7] 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 consideration.

         I. Admission of Fansler's Statements Was Harmless Error

         [¶8] 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 were.[1]
[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.

         [¶9] 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 ...

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