A confidential informant told police that Eddie McCoy was selling drugs out of unit A-7 in Pineview Apartments, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. When police went to conduct a knock and talk, Chante Robinson, McCoy’s girlfriend, answered the door. Robinson lived at the apartment with her mother, Cynthia Robinson, who leased the apartment.
While police were talking to Chante, McCoy walked into the living room with his hands in his pockets. When officers asked if they could speak to him, he darted to the bathroom and tried to shut the door. Fearing McCoy was either retrieving a weapon or destroying evidence, the officers ran into the bathroom.
They found McCoy hovered over a trash can and escorted him outside of the apartment to wait with another officer. Cynthia and Chante then gave permission to search the apartment and inside the bathroom where McCoy had fled, the officers found a bag of cocaine in the trash can. In Chante’s bedroom, they found a set of scales, a gun, and brass knuckles.
He was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and sentenced to life as a habitual offender. On appeal, he argued the police needed a search warrant to enter the apartment and also that he did not possess the drugs. MCOA affirmed.
A. McCoy has no standing to object to search
In Walker, the MSC stated that while the exclusionary rule bars the use of evidence from unlawful seizures, Fourth Amendment rights are personal. What this means is that McCoy could only invoke the exclusionary rule if his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. Under the circumstances here, McCoy had no Fourth Amendment right to prevent a search or seizure of his girlfriend’s mother’s apartment.
In Cooper, the MSC said that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 3, Section 23 of the Mississippi Constitution protect occupants of a home from warrantless and nonconsensual entry by police. To claim protection under the Fourth Amendment, a defendant must have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place. Fourth amendment protection is typically restricted to those who rent, own, or otherwise reside in the dwelling.
McCoy argues he falls into the “otherwise reside” category, alleging he often stayed overnight with his girlfriend, Chante, in her mother’s apartment. He cited Powell.
In Powell, this court found the defendant had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his girlfriend’s car because he had permission to drive the car whenever he wanted and could exclude anyone from the car except his girlfriend and her father, the title holder of the vehicle. The facts of Powell are different from this case.
It was McCoy’s burden to establish he had a Fourth Amendment right invaded by the search of the apartment. During the suppression hearing, instead of trying to establish his legitimate expectation of privacy in the apartment, McCoy tried to prove the opposite—that he was not an occupant. This strategy of distancing himself from the apartment was no doubt to bolster his defense that he had no knowledge or control over the cocaine and contraband found there. This argument fails.
B. Exigent circumstances allowed entry
In King, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is well established that exigent circumstances, including the need to prevent the destruction of evidence, permit police officers to conduct an otherwise permissible search without first obtaining a warrant.
Chante testified she voluntarily opened the door, let police in, and voluntarily answered their questions. When McCoy walked in on their interview, instead of refusing to speak to the officers or asking them to leave, he ran to the bathroom and tried to slam the door.
The officers had gone to the apartment to follow up on a tip that McCoy was selling drugs out of the apartment so it was reasonable for them to believe McCoy had run to the bathroom to destroy evidence. Thus, we find the exigent circumstances justified the officers to enter the apartment to stop McCoy.
This search was only conducted after the officers obtained written consent from Cynthia, the apartment’s leaseholder. So the “fruit” was not borne of a “poisonous tree” but rather from a legal search of the apartment. In Graves, the MSC stated that a voluntary consent to a search eliminates an officer’s need to obtain a search warrant.
D. Constructive possession
Constructive possession may be established where the evidence, considered under the totality of the circumstances, shows that the defendant knowingly exercised control over the contraband.
In Knight, the MSC said that the defendant’s proximity to the drugs is a factor in establishing constructive possession, but it is not determinative. Other incriminating circumstances must be present to establish constructive possession.
McCoy claims that the State was only able to prove his proximity to the drugs. He insists no “other incriminating circumstances” were present because McCoy neither owned nor exerted exclusive control over the apartment.
It is true that proving ownership or control over the premises are two ways to support a constructive possession theory. But they are not the only ways. In Dixon, the MSC stated that a conviction can be based on constructive possession when the defendant did not own the premises but was sufficiently tied to the drugs found there by placing himself in the midst of items implicating his participation in the processing of the substance.
McCoy was seen with his hands stuffed into his pockets. Once he saw the police, he ran hard for the bathroom, slamming the door to keep the officers out. And when the officers got to him, he was standing over the trash can where the drugs were found. This was more than mere proximity to the drugs. This alone showed he had sufficient knowledge and control over the cocaine to have constructively possessed it.