Court upholds Peelman sentence
Thursday, October 31, 2013 11:00 AM
The Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld the conviction and 38-year sentence of a man found guilty of methamphetamine charges in Jefferson County in 2012.
A 12-member jury convicted Christopher W. Peelman, 30, in October 2012 on charges of manufacturing meth and conspiracy to manufacture meth.
Peelman appealed the conviction and sentence, claiming his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, there was not enough evidence to support his conviction and that his sentence was improper. The Court of Appeals denied all three arguments.
Madison police arrested Peelman in July 2012 after receiving information that he and three other people were collecting supplies to manufacture meth.
Officers went to the home of Scott VanKuren, one of the codefendants in the case, to investigate and entered the house after smelling a "strong chemical odor" associated with the manufacturing of meth, according to the Court of Appeals ruling.
Officers found several ingredients used to make meth and found Peelman hiding in a back room of the house.
Peelman first took issue with the fact that officers entered the home without a warrant, which he said would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment's guarantee to no illegal searches of seizures of a private residence.
Since the methamphetamine manufacturing process is considered volatile, and could result in an explosion, officers determined they had a right to enter the home for the safety of those inside the house and the neighbors. Officers also had a fear that people inside the home would destroy evidence if police announced their presence.
The Court of Appeals ruled those standards are enough to give officers the right to enter the home without a warrant.
In his appeal, Peelman argued that officers only entered the home to obtain evidence and gave no testimony during the trial that they had any concern for neighbors.
"Even if it were true that the officers entered the house solely based upon a desire to obtain evidence without any consideration of safety, it would be irrelevant to the Fourth Amendment analysis," Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote in her opinion. Judges Patricia Riley and James Kirsch concurred with the opinion.
Peelman also argued there was not enough evidence to support a conviction because he was not physically in possession of the meth ingredients when police arrived. However, Indiana law allows for constructive possession, as long as a person has the intent and capability to maintain control over an item.
In this case, the Court of Appeals said the odor emanating from the house and the several ingredients police found lying on the floor in plain view were enough to support a constructive possession argument.
"Nothing suggests that Peelman did not have access to the precursors or that he was confined to the back bedroom in which the police found him," Robb wrote.
Peelman also argued his 38-year sentence was improper due to the nature of his character. The jury convicted Peelman of two Class A felonies, which carry a penalty range of 20 to 50 years in prison.
Peelman said there were several factors presented at the sentencing hearing that would call for a shorter sentence, including his age, his drug addiction, family support and the effect incarceration would have on his young child.
"However," Robb wrote in her opinion, "none of the circumstances argued by Peelman is significant and clearly supported by the record."
Peelman had 11 convictions - eight of which were felonies - over an 11-year period. He had been on probation at the time of his arrest and had pending charges in Indiana and Kentucky.
The child's mother had primary custody, the court found, and Peelman had resisted any family support to help with his drug addiction.
"We believe these aggravators are sufficient to support Peelman's 38-year sentence," Robb wrote.