Additional incriminating evidence found in constructive possession case


Officers with the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department received a bench warrant for James Johnson’s (aka Bobo) arrest based on an unrelated incident. When officers dressed in plain clothes arrived at Johnson’s mother’s home (his last known whereabouts), they saw Johnson in the passenger seat of a black Chevy Trailblazer. As they approached, Johnson noticed them and attempted to bend down and close the car door. One officer stopped the door from closing and would later testify that he saw Johnson “dropping, putting, or shoving” something under the passenger seat. The officer asked Johnson to step out of the vehicle, but Johnson refused. The officers then removed Johnson from the vehicle, causing Johnson to yell for his mother, who was inside the house.

After being detained, Johnson told the officers, “you aren’t going to search that vehicle.” The officers requested a search warrant based on their observation of a small plastic bag (often referred to as a “dime bag”) and a digital scale in plain view on the passenger side floorboard. After obtaining the warrant, the officers searched the vehicle and found a bag with 10.414 milligrams of methamphetamine and a thermos with fifty-one 20- milligram pills of Vyvanse tucked underneath the passenger seat. Investigators also found four fake one-hundred dollar bills and pill bottles with the labels scratched off. No drugs were found on Johnson’s person. The officers ran the tag on the vehicle and determined that it was registered to someone named Richard Hosey.

Johnson’s mother came out of the house while the officers detained Johnson. She later testified that she saw an officer sitting in the passenger seat prior to the search warrant arriving. She also said she did not know that either Johnson or the vehicle was at her house that morning. However, she stated that she knew Johnson was installing an amplifier in the vehicle. She also testified that Johnson drove the vehicle once or twice a week, and the last time she knew he had driven it was five or six days before the arrest. Lastly, she said she knew other people regularly drove the vehicle and that the vehicle did not belong to Johnson.

James Johnson was convicted for one count of possession of methamphetamine and one count of trafficking Vyvanse and sentenced to 80 years. On appeal, Johnson argues that the State failed to sufficiently establish the “constructive possession” element for possession and trafficking. MCOA affirmed.


To support a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, MSC precedent requires the following:

There must be sufficient facts to warrant a finding that defendant was aware of the presence and character of the particular substance and was intentionally and consciously in possession of it. Constructive possession may be shown by establishing that the drug involved was subject to the defendant’s dominion or control. Proximity is usually an essential element, but by itself is not adequate in the absence of other incriminating circumstances. See Terry.

When contraband is found in a vehicle that is not owned by a defendant, mere physical proximity to the contraband does not, in itself, show constructive possession. Rather, the State must show additional incriminating circumstances connecting the defendant to the contraband. In other words, if the vehicle in which the drugs were found is not owned by the defendant, the State must present additional evidence that shows the defendant was aware of the presence and character of the drugs.

In Reindollar, the defendant was driving a truck that belonged to his brother from Texas. The truck was parked on the side of the highway next to an 18-wheeler. Reindollar and the driver of the 18-wheeler were moving items from the 18-wheeler to the truck when an officer arrived on the scene. The officer testified that Reindollar seemed extremely nervous and acting like he was under the influence of a stimulant because he was sweating, fidgety, and his pupils were constricted. Reindollar consented to allow the officer to search the truck. The officer testified that he saw digital scales visible in the door pocket. While searching the vehicle, the officer found two bags of methamphetamine stashed in the headliner of the vehicle above the steering wheel. No drugs were found on Reindollar’s person, and Reindollar never admitted to possession of the scales or the drugs found in the vehicle; however, he did admit to driving the vehicle to Mississippi from Texas. Reindollar was charged and convicted of possession of a controlled substance.

On appeal, Reindollar argued that the State failed to prove he was aware of the presence and character of the drugs found in the vehicle. Reindollar pointed to the fact that he did not own the vehicle, was not in exclusive control of the vehicle, and did not know the drugs were in the vehicle. On review, our Court found that because Reindollar appeared to be under the influence of some type of stimulant, the drugs were found in the headliner above the steering wheel (a common place for storing illicit substances), and scales were in plain view of the driver’s seat, “other incriminating circumstances” existed that could be used to find constructive possession. Because of these other circumstances, our Court found that the record reflected substantial evidence upon which a jury could have found Reindollar constructively possessed methamphetamine.

We find Reindollar is directly on point with the present case. Here, officers testified that when they arrived at his mother’s home, Johnson dropped down and attempted to close the door on the passenger side. They also testified that they saw Johnson drop something onto the floor. After Johnson was detained, Johnson told the officers, “You are not going to search that vehicle.” The officers, after seeing a digital scale in plain view on the passenger-side floorboard, requested and obtained a search warrant. The officers searched the vehicle and found the methamphetamine and Vyvanse hidden under the passenger seat.

Similar to Reindollar, Johnson was not the owner of the vehicle, but he had permission to use it on a few days out of the week. The drugs in Reindollar were found above the steering wheel but hidden from view. The drugs in Johnson’s case were found underneath the passenger seat, also hidden from view, but with a bag and scales in plain view. Just as in Reindollar, although Johnson did not own the vehicle in question and the drugs were hidden from view, a reasonable jury could still find Johnson exercised control or dominion over the drugs because of other incriminating circumstances.

Johnson’s behavior when the officers arrested him was exceedingly suspicious. He attempted to hide from the officers and close the car door. He also told the officers not to search the vehicle despite none of the officers asking or making any moves to do so. Further, on the passenger-side floorboard, where Johnson was allegedly installing an amplifier, was the plastic bag and digital scale in plain view. Further, while no direct proof was produced that Johnson drove the vehicle to his mother’s house, Johnson’s mother testified that neither Johnson nor the car was at her house the night before, and indeed she was unaware they were there that morning until the police arrived. A reasonable jury could infer from the fact that no other people or vehicles were present that Johnson did in fact drive the vehicle there the previous night. Lastly, despite Johnson’s argument that he was installing an amplifier into the vehicle, no evidence was presented supporting this contention.

Pursuant to Reindollar, we find that a reasonable jury could have found the evidence presented above compelling enough to find Johnson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For this reason, we find Johnson’s argument that the State failed to present sufficient evidence of his guilt unconvincing.