Local Conviction Upheld by Indiana Court of Appeals

     On January 27, 2017, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the case of Roger D. Wilkinson, Jr. v. State of Indiana,  involving the appeal of convictions following a jury trial that took place in the Spencer Circuit Court in September of 2015.

The Facts…

April 10, 2015, at approximately 10:00 a.m., a local resident (C.U.) returned home and found a strange, gray BMW parked in her driveway. She saw an individual, later identified as Roger Wilkinson, slumped over in the front seat. C.U. went into her house to ask her husband, S.U., if he was expecting a visitor. S.U. indicated he was not, and went outside to investigate. C.U. followed, and the two approached the vehicle and observed Wilkinson holding his hand over his eyes and rocking back and forth. Wilkinson appeared disoriented and unsteady. He had trouble keeping his head up, and slurred his words. The vehicle’s windshield was damaged, and there was extensive damage to the driver’s side. The property owners asked Wilkinson if he needed help. He replied that he was “okay.” S.U. called 911 because both he and C.U. thought Wilkinson needed assistance.

Officer James Faulkenburg with the Santa Claus Police Department arrived on the scene first, followed by Sergeant Harold Gogel and Deputy Marvin Heilman with the Spencer County Sheriff’s Department.  The officers determined Wilkinson was the individual seated behind the wheel, and that the vehicle was registered to B.C. B.C. had loaned the car to his daughter for her personal use.

Wilkinson appeared to be sleeping and was slumped over behind the steering wheel. The officers noticed the damage to the vehicle, but determined that it was drivable. Emergency medical personnel also responded to the scene, but left shortly after arriving because the officers determined they were not needed.

Gogel and Faulkenburg approached the driver’s side of the vehicle. Heilman approached from the passenger side.  Faulkenburg asked Wilkinson if he was okay and if he needed any medical attention. Wilkinson stated that he did not know.  Faulkenburg noticed that Wilkinson’s speech was slurred, but he showed no signs of physical injury.  Faulkenburg opened the driver’s side door and observed a plastic vial laying between Wilkinson’s legs.  Faulkenburg placed the vial on top of the vehicle.

Heilman, who was on the other side of the vehicle, saw a partially filled bottle of rum on the floorboard.  He opened the passenger-side door and entered the vehicle.  Once inside, he saw a hand-rolled cigarette he believed to be a marijuana cigarette. Neither he nor Gogel smelled alcohol on Wilkinson, but Heilman thought Wilkinson looked lethargic, and seemed to be impaired, and might be under the influence of illegal drugs.  Gogel noticed a package of cigarette rolling papers on the vehicle’s floorboard.

Faulkenburg asked Wilkinson to exit the vehicle, but had to lend assistance because Wilkinson was unable to do so on his own. Wilkinson was patted down. A cloth bag was found in the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. A syringe and a small glass jar were found inside of the bag. Wilkinson was placed in handcuffs and seated on the ground.

Heilman eventually took possession of the plastic vial that was found between Wilkinson’s legs. Without opening the vial, he determined it contained a hand-rolled cigarette and plastic bags that contained powdery substances. The vial was opened and it was confirmed that it contained three plastic bags that contained a white, powdery substance. The substances from two of the bags were tested using a field test kit. They tested positive for methamphetamine.

Gogel asked Wilkinson if he would take a field sobriety test at the scene, or a certified test at the law enforcement center. Wilkinson declined. At some point he was arrested and taken to jail, and the vehicle was impounded.

After arriving at the jail, a warrant was obtained to take a sample of Wilkinson’s blood. His blood tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, and THC – an active component of marijuana. The rolled cigarettes and the substances found in the plastic bags were analyzed by the Indiana State Police Laboratory. One of the cigarettes was found to contain marijuana. It was confirmed that the other substances contained methamphetamine. Wilkinson was charged with eight offenses related to possession of drugs and paraphernalia, and operation of a vehicle while intoxicated.

Convictions and Appeal

At the jury trial in September 2015, Wilkinson was convicted of Level 5 felony possession of methamphetamine, Level 6 felony Unlawful possession of syringe, Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated, Class C misdemeanor operating a vehicle with a Schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in the body, and Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana.  On appeal, Wilkinson argued that the evidence to support his convictions relating to operation of the vehicle was insufficient, that the search of his vehicle was unlawful, and that two jurors engaged in misconduct by failing to disclose knowing or being familiar with a relatively minor witness (B.C.) in the case.

The Court of Appeals held that there was more than enough evidence to support the convictions for operating while intoxicated and operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in the body.  As to the search of the vehicle, the Court held that the search was lawful based upon three exceptions to the warrant requirement:  the plain view doctrine, the medical assistance exception, and the automobile exception.  As to the claims of juror misconduct, the Court found that there was no substantial evidence that the two jurors were biased and concluded that Wilkinson failed to meet the burden required to show juror misconduct and had failed to show that the lack of disclosure was gross and caused him harm based upon a small acquaintance with one witness who merely testified as to the ownership of the vehicle .

Spencer Circuit Court Judge Jon Dartt conducted a hearing following the trial and convictions on Wilkinson’s claims of juror misconduct and both jurors were interviewed on the record.  The Court of Appeals stated that the trial court was well within its discretion to deny the claim.

Wilkinson is presently serving a six year sentence at the Indiana Department of Corrections as a result of his convictions.  The full text of the Court of Appeals opinion can be read here.