Pimentel v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 21A-CR-994

Docket NºCourt of Appeals Case No. 21A-CR-994
Citation181 N.E.3d 474
Case DateFebruary 18, 2022
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

181 N.E.3d 474

Edgar PIMENTEL, Jr., Appellant-Defendant,
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

Court of Appeals Case No. 21A-CR-994

Court of Appeals of Indiana.

FILED February 18, 2022


Attorney for Appellant: Brandon E. Murphy, Cannon Burns & Murphy, Muncie, Indiana

Attorneys for Appellee: Theodore E. Rokita, Attorney General of Indiana, Evan Matthew Comer, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana

Pyle, Judge.

Statement of the Case

1] Edgar Pimentel, Jr., ("Pimentel") appeals his convictions, following a jury trial, of Level 5 felony possession of a narcotic drug1 and Level 6 felony unlawful possession of a syringe2 as well as his adjudication as an habitual offender.3 He argues that: (1) the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to dismiss the charge of unlawful possession of a syringe; and (2) there is insufficient evidence to support his convictions. Concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and that there is sufficient evidence to support Pimentel's convictions, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

[2] We affirm.

Issues

1. Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Pimentel's motion to dismiss the charge of unlawful possession of a syringe.

2. Whether there is sufficient evidence to support Pimentel's convictions for Level 5 felony possession of a narcotic drug and Level 6 felony unlawful possession of a syringe.

Facts

[1] The facts most favorable to the verdict reveal that, at approximately 3:00 a.m. on June 12, 2020, Portland Police Department Officer Eric Fields ("Officer Fields") was working his overnight shift when he noticed Pimentel, Christina Bishop ("Bishop"), and a third person engaged in suspicious behavior near a downtown theater ("the theater"). When Officer Fields approached the group, Pimentel told the officer that they were doing laundry. Officer Fields asked Pimentel about a white car ("the white car") that was parked nearby in the theater's parking lot, and Pimentel responded that it was "their vehicle." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 31).

[2] Thereafter, Officer Fields drove his police vehicle behind the Jay County Courthouse and began surveillance of the theater's parking lot, including the white car and its two occupants, Pimentel and Bishop. During this three-hour surveillance, Officer Fields observed several people approach both sides of the white car, remain there for a short period, and then walk away.

[3] At approximately 7:30 a.m., as Officer Fields approached the white car in his marked police vehicle, the officer noticed Pimentel, who was sitting in the front passenger's seat, and Bishop, who was sitting in the driver's seat, had "started reaching around" inside the white car. (Tr. Vol. 2 at

[181 N.E.3d 478

33). When Officer Fields walked up to the white car, the officer smelled marijuana. Officer Fields asked Pimentel and Bishop what they were doing, and Pimentel responded that he and Bishop "were discussing their relationship issues." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 33).

4] Based upon the odor of marijuana, Officer Fields told Pimentel and Bishop that he was going "to run [his] certified police K-9 around the vehicle to see if she indicated the presence of narcotics." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 33). When the dog alerted to the presence of narcotics in the white car, Officer Fields ordered Pimentel and Bishop to exit the vehicle. Based on Officer Fields’ training at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and daily experience as a police officer, Officer Fields believed that Pimentel was "intoxicated on narcotics." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 39). Officer Fields also noticed that Pimentel, who was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, had small marks and scabs on his arms. According to Officer Fields, the small marks and scabs were consistent with "[t]rack marks from shooting up with a hypodermic needle." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 47).

[5] During a search of the white car, Officer Fields found a capped syringe with an attached needle in the front passenger seat "where the back and bottom portion of the seat meet." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 35). Officer Fields also found multiple empty plastic baggies and a metal spoon with a burnt residue on it. In addition, Officer Fields found a second capped syringe with an attached needle inside a black bag in the back seat of the white car. Officer Fields also noticed that the white car was "completely full of personal belongings[,]" including both men's and women's clothing. (Tr. Vol. 2 at 40). Another police officer escorted Bishop to the Jay County Jail, where a female jailer searched Bishop and found a bag with one gram of fentanyl in Bishop's bra.

[6] After searching the white car, Officer Fields returned to the police station, uncapped the syringes, and verified that they had needles attached to them. Officer Fields then recapped the syringes and photographed them together. Because the syringes were capped, the needles were not visible in the photographs. Due to safety concerns, the syringes were subsequently disposed of pursuant to Portland Police Department policies.

[7] In June 2020, the State charged Pimentel with Level 5 felony possession of a narcotic drug for possessing the fentanyl and Level 6 felony unlawful possession of one syringe. The charging information did not identify which syringe Pimentel was being charged with unlawfully possessing. The State subsequently alleged that Pimentel was an habitual offender.

[8] In March 2021, Pimentel filed a motion to dismiss the charge of unlawful possession of a syringe. In his motion, Pimentel argued that the State had denied him due process because it had failed to preserve a syringe for him to examine. The gravamen of his argument was that he had been denied the opportunity to uncap the syringe and determine if there was, in fact, a needle attached to it. According to Pimentel, "[t]he negligent destruction or withholding of material evidence by the police or prosecution m[ight] present grounds for reversal because it denie[d] due process[.]" (App. Vol. 2 at 42).

[9] Following a hearing, the trial court issued a March 2021 order denying Pimentel's motion to dismiss. In its order, the trial court pointed out that the State had asserted that Officer Fields would testify that a needle was attached to the syringe barrel. Thereafter, the trial court concluded that "[t]he record [was] devoid of any indication that the syringe[ ] w[as] materially

[181 N.E.3d 479

exculpatory evidence[ ]" and that "[a]ssuming, without finding, that the syringe[ ] m[ight] have constituted potentially useful evidence, ... the destruction of the syringe[ ] was not done in bad faith." (App. Vol. 2 at 46).

10] At the April 2021 trial, the jury heard the evidence regarding the charged offenses as set forth above. In addition, there was no evidence presented at trial that the syringes did not have needles attached to them. Further, Pimentel did not object when the trial court admitted into evidence a photograph of the capped syringes. Pimentel also did not object when Officer Fields testified that he had uncapped the syringes, verified that they had needles attached to them, and recapped them.

[11] During closing argument, Pimentel argued as follows: "[Officer] Fields claims that he uncapped those syringes and verified there were needles[.] I would submit to you, he never did that. He assumed those needles were there[.] Don't take his word for it." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 110).

[12] The jury convicted Pimentel of Level 5 felony possession of a narcotic drug and Level 6 felony unlawful possession of a syringe, and the trial court adjudicated him to be an habitual offender. Pimentel now appeals.

Decision

[13] Pimentel argues that: (1) the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to dismiss the charge of unlawful possession of a syringe; and (2) there is insufficient evidence to support his convictions. We address each of his contentions in turn.

1. Motion to Dismiss

[14] Pimentel first argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to dismiss the charge of unlawful possession of a syringe. Pimentel specifically contends that the trial court should have granted his motion to dismiss because the State violated his right to due process when it failed to preserve a syringe.

[15] We review a trial court's decision on a defendant's motion to dismiss a criminal charge for an abuse of discretion. State v. Sturman , 56 N.E.3d 1187, 1195 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016). An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the trial court. Id.

[16] The defendant in a criminal case has the right to examine physical evidence in the hands of the State. Terry v. State , 857 N.E.2d 396, 406 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied. The failure of the State...

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