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Baltimore v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

November 15, 2017



          William R. Simpson, Jr., Public Defender, by: Clint Miller, Deputy Public Defender, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Michael A. Hylden, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         Dexter Wayne Baltimore appeals a nonjury verdict entered by the Pulaski County Circuit Court convicting him of possession of cocaine, a Class D felony, in violation of Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-64-419(b)(1)(A) (Repl. 2016).[1] He was sentenced to two years of probation. On appeal, Baltimore challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the possession-of-cocaine conviction. We reverse and dismiss the conviction for possession of cocaine.

         At Baltimore's bench trial, the evidence revealed that on November 14, 2015, Officer Ryan Davidson of the North Little Rock Police Department initiated a traffic stop of a gray Toyota Camry after it failed to stop at an intersection and made a right turn without signaling. When Davidson made contact with the driver, Baltimore, he (Davidson) smelled marijuana coming from inside the vehicle. The officer asked Baltimore to step out of the vehicle, and as he stepped out, the officer testified that he "observed . . . marijuana . . . in plain view" on Baltimore's seat. Davidson stated that there were two other passengers in the vehicle-one in the front passenger seat and another in the rear.

         Based on these circumstances, Davidson conducted a search of Baltimore's vehicle. Davidson testified that "[d]uring the search, I located two crack rocks, I believe in the front center cup holder." Davidson said that there were "also small pieces of crack cocaine on the floorboard." The officer testified that he gathered and bagged the evidence and gave it to North Little Rock police officer Jeffrey Elenbaas, whom Davidson had called for assistance.

         Elenbaas testified that he received a call from Davidson to assist with a traffic stop on November 14, 2015. Elenbaas stated that he helped identify the occupants of the vehicle, took custody of the evidence given to him by Davidson, and delivered the evidence to the police property room. Elenbaas further testified that as he stood "right next to the [passenger side of the] vehicle, " he smelled the faint odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle but did not see any drugs in plain view. Gene Bangs, a forensic chemist with the Arkansas State Crime Lab, confirmed that the evidence he tested consisted of 0.1315 grams of marijuana and 0.0908 grams of cocaine.

         Based on this evidence, the circuit court found Baltimore guilty of possession of marijuana and possession of cocaine. On appeal, Baltimore contends that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the possession-of-cocaine charge because there was insufficient evidence that he constructively possessed the cocaine.

         A motion to dismiss at a bench trial and a motion for a directed verdict at a jury trial are both challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. See Ark. R. Crim. P. 33.1 (2016). In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this court determines whether the verdict is supported by substantial evidence, direct or circumstantial. Foster v. State, 2015 Ark.App. 412, at 4, 467 S.W.3d 176, 179. Substantial evidence is evidence forceful enough to compel a conclusion one way or the other beyond suspicion or conjecture. Id., 467 S.W.3d at 179. We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, and only evidence supporting the verdict will be considered. Id., 467 S.W.3d at 179.

         It is unlawful for a person to possess a controlled substance. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-64-419(a). Possession of less than two grams of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance that is methamphetamine or cocaine is a Class D felony. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-64-419(b)(1)(A).

         It is not necessary for the State to prove literal physical possession of drugs in order to prove possession. Mings v. State, 318 Ark. 201, 207, 884 S.W.2d 596, 600 (1994). Possession of drugs can be proved by constructive possession. Id., 884 S.W.2d at 600. Constructive possession requires the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the defendant exercised care, control, and management over the contraband and (2) the accused knew the matter possessed was contraband. Walker v. State, 77 Ark.App. 122, 125, 72 S.W.3d 517, 519 (2002).

         Constructive possession can be inferred when the drugs are in the joint control of the accused and another. Mings, 318 Ark. at 207, 884 S.W.2d at 600. However, joint occupancy of a vehicle, standing alone, is not sufficient to establish possession or joint possession. Id., 884 S.W.2d at 600. There must be some other factor linking the accused to the drugs. Id., 884 S.W.2d at 600. Other factors to be considered in cases involving automobiles occupied by more than one person are (1) whether the contraband is in plain view; (2) whether the contraband is found with the accused's personal effects; (3) whether it is found on the same side of the car seat as the accused was sitting or in near proximity to it; (4) whether the accused is the owner of the automobile or exercises dominion and control over it; and (5) whether the accused acted suspiciously before or during the arrest. Id., 884 S.W.2d at 600.

         Baltimore argues that the State failed to present substantial evidence of three of the five factors linking him to the cocaine. He contends that there was no evidence that the cocaine was found in his personal effects, that he acted suspiciously before or during the arrest, or that the cocaine was found in plain view. He concedes that the State presented evidence of two of the five linking factors-that he exercised dominion and control over the vehicle (based on testimony from Davidson that Baltimore was driving the vehicle when it was pulled over) and that the cocaine in the front center cup holder was found in close proximity to him. However, relying on Walker, Baltimore argues that this evidence is insufficient to raise a reasonable inference that he knew the cocaine was in the front cup holder. He contends ...

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