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Strickland v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

January 25, 2019

Elizabeth J. Strickland, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

          Appeal from the Clark Circuit Court The Honorable Bradley B. Jacobs, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 10C02-1703-F2-10

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT A. David Hutson Hutson Legal Jeffersonville, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Caryn N. Szyper Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          MAY, JUDGE.

         [¶1] Elizabeth K. Strickland appeals her convictions of Level 2 felony dealing in methamphetamine, [1] Level 6 felony possession of a controlled substance, [2] Level 6 felony unlawful possession of a syringe, [3] and Level 6 felony maintaining a common nuisance.[4] She presents several issues that we restate as:

1. Whether the trial court erred in admitting Strickland's incriminating statements;
2. Whether the trial court erred in admitting evidence procured via search warrant; and
3. Whether Strickland's seventeen and one-half year sentence is inappropriate.

         We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On March 27, 2017, Rodney Roudenbush and Kimberly Pierce rented a room at the Jeffersonvilla motel. Strickland came to visit. Roudenbush, Pierce, and Tina Hoffmeister then left the motel in a car driven by Roudenbush, while Strickland stayed in the motel room.

         [¶3] Jeffersonville Police Department Officer Tom O'Neil was "on routine patrol doing . . . hotel and motel interdiction."[5] (Tr. Vol. 1 at 108.) When he saw Roudenbush leave the motel, he followed the car. When Roudenbush "made an abrupt southbound turn . . . almost causing a traffic accident[, ]" (id. at 110), Officer O'Neil initiated a traffic stop. When approaching the stopped vehicle, Officer O'Neil observed the driver, Roudenbush, "making furtive movements [and] reaching downward to-toward underneath the seat or uh the right-side of the seat." (Id.) To Officer O'Neil, it appeared as though Roudenbush was trying to hide something. Officer O'Neil asked Roudenbush what he had hidden, to which Roudenbush responded "dope." (Id. at 111.) Roudenbush clarified that "dope" meant methamphetamine. (Id.) Officers searched Roudenbush and found two bags of drugs on Roudenbush's person. Officers found additional bags of drugs in the car.

         [¶4] Roudenbush asked to speak to Sergeant Dan Lawhorn "regarding assisting [Sergeant Lawhorn] in uh further law enforcement investigations [in an] attempt to uh help his legal matters[.]" (Tr. Vol. 2 at 24.) Roudenbush told Sergeant Lawhorn "he had just left the Jeffersonvilla, room 28, um where [Strickland] remained and [Roudenbush] stated that there was additional narcotics in in [sic] the room." (Id.) Sergeant Lawhorn deemed Roudenbush's information to be credible because he knew Roudenbush and Strickland to be "very close associates." (Id.) Sergeant Lawhorn directed some of the other officers to maintain surveillance on the motel while he returned to the station to draft a search warrant application. Officer Shaune Davis was surveilling the motel room and observed people visiting the motel room but staying only briefly.[6] Officer Davis reported this information to Detective Lawhorn for inclusion in his search warrant affidavit.

         [¶5] The affidavit that Sergeant Lawhorn submitted to procure a search warrant stated:

In support of said affidavit for probable cause this affiant states as follows: Your affiant within the last 4 hours assisted Officer Tom O'Neil, who is currently assigned to the Jeffersonville Police Department drug Investigation for interdiction purposes, on a traffic stop leading to the arrest of three individuals identified as Rodney Roudenbush, Tina L. Hoffmeister, and Kimberly S. Pierce, and the seizure of approximately 10 grams methamphetamine individually packaged for sale. Officer O'Neil was observing for short stays at the above described location. The above described location is a known location for the sale of illegal narcotics. Upon observing for suspicious activity at the above described location Officer O'Neil observed a tan colored Ford Taurus departing the area from directly in front of room #28. During the course of Officer O'Neil's traffic stop several items consistent with the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine were located inside a small locked Sentry safe. These items included scales, sandwich baggies and small zip lock bags.
After arriving to assist Officer O'Neil your affiant immediately identified the driver as Rodney Roudenbush, [white male], from previous law enforcement investigations. Officer O'Neil advised all subjects of their Miranda Warning and stated that they understood their legal rights. Mr. Roudenbush immediately advised Officer O'Neil that he wished to cooperate with law enforcement stating he could purchase methamphetamine from other individuals. Your affiant asked where he was coming from and he stated room #28 at the Jeffersonvilla Motel. Mr. Roudenbush stated that a white female identified as Elizabeth "Juanita" Strickland remained at the motel when he departed. Your affiant is familiar with Elizabeth "Juanita" Strickland from past law enforcement investigations. Your affiant and other law enforcement officials have conducted numerous controlled buys of methamphetamine from her in the last 4 months. Mr. Roudenbush further stated that he believed Elizabeth "Juanita" Strickland to be in possession of additional methamphetamine back at the above described location.
Upon speaking with Pierce, she stated that she was the sister of Elizabeth "Juanita" Strickland and that they had just left the above described location. Pierce stated that the room that they are occupying is registered to her. Hoffmeister stated that she and the others had just left the above described location and where [sic] she left a small bag of methamphetamine inside the room.
While conducting the traffic stop Det [sic] Davis returned to the above described location and began surveillance. During this short time two vehicles arrived where occupants exited the vehicle and entered the above described location where they stayed for a brief period of time and then exited and departed the area. Det [sic] Davis did observe Elizabeth "Juanita" Strickland open the door to the above described location and let these individuals into the room.
Your affiant has a working relationship with local motel/hotels due to the unfortunate nature that these structures are common places for drug dealers to distribute illegal narcotics. Management at the above aforementioned location has contacted your affiant on numerous occasions in the past leading to arrests of individuals involved in drug related offenses.

(App. Vol. 2 at 109-110.) A search warrant was issued for room #28 at the Jeffersonvilla motel.

         [¶6] Upon receipt of the search warrant, Jeffersonville police officers approached the motel room where Strickland was. A young man and woman were in the room with Strickland. They were later identified as Strickland's son and the son's friend. Both were allowed to leave once it was confirmed they were not involved with the distribution or possession of drugs. However, while that investigation was being completed, all three occupants of the room were handcuffed and read their Miranda[7] advisement.

         [¶7] The State charged Strickland with Level 2 felony dealing in methamphetamine, Level 6 felony possession of a controlled substance, Level 6 felony unlawful possession of syringe, and Level 6 felony maintaining a common nuisance. The State later amended the charging information to include Level 3 felony possession of methamphetamine.[8] Strickland filed two motions to suppress. In the first she alleged the search warrant used to obtain evidence in the hotel room was unsupported by probable cause. The second sought to suppress Strickland's statements in the hotel room based on Strickland's assertions that she was not properly mirandized.[9] The court held an evidentiary hearing and then denied the motions.

         [¶8] A conversation between defense counsel and the trial court regarding whether continuing objections were valid resulted in defense counsel stating he would object at the relevant times but did not "need to lay out each point of the argument each time it should come up[.]" (Tr. Vol. 1 at 88-9.) The trial court and the State agreed, and the trial court stated: "So, we'll we will [sic] note the continued [sic] objection and when you object object [sic] we will incorporate these arguments, this part of the hearing into the Court's Record for future." (Id. at 89.) During the trial, at different intervals, defense counsel noted his continuing objection. (See, e.g., id. at 119 (continuing objection to the search warrant), id. at 129 (continuing objection to admission of Strickland's statements), id. (continuing objection to admission of Strickland's statements),

id. at 166 (continuing objection to admission of Strickland's statements), id. at 168 (continuing objection to admission of Strickland's statements).)

         [¶9] The jury returned a guilty verdict on all charges. The trial court merged the possession of methamphetamine charge with the dealing in methamphetamine charge. The trial court identified Strickland's criminal history as an aggravator and Strickland's early trauma and the hardship to her family as mitigators. The trial court also "identif[ied] a creative mitigator that Ms. Strickland's always been pleasant when in Court[.]" (Tr. Vol. 2 at 140.) However, it still found the aggravators outweighed the mitigators and sentenced ...

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