Officer Bobby Herron of the Crystal Springs Police Department testified that in 2020, he received a call from another police officer alerting him that Dcorious Alford was in town at the Community Quick Stop. Herron explained that Alford had an outstanding warrant out for his arrest. The officers located the van Alford was driving and followed the vehicle into a parking lot. The officers then exited the patrol car and informed Alford that he had an outstanding arrest warrant.
Officer Wooten spoke with Alford while Officer Herron interviewed the two passengers inside of the van: Collins, who was sitting in the front-right passenger seat, and Troy Walker, who was sitting in the back passenger seat. Herron testified that while he spoke to Collins and Walker, he could clearly smell the presence of marijuana coming from the vehicle. He also testified that he could see a digital scale sitting on the center console of the van (between the driver’s seat and passenger seat) in plain view. Herron stated that he also observed a small razor blade beside the digital scale.
During pat downs of Collins and Walker, Herron felt something in Walker’s pocket, which turned out to be $1,000 in cash. Herron asked Walker about the money, and Walker informed him that he earned the money by cutting grass for a living.
Herron searched the vehicle and discovered a clear plastic bag containing a green leafy substance which appeared to be marijuana inside of a compartment above the vehicle’s cigarette lighter. In another compartment near the cigarette lighter, Herron found two additional clear bags containing the same green leafy substance, as well as a bag containing pills. Herron also found a white powdery substance on the floorboard under the driver’s seat.
Officer Herron testified that when he picked up the substance, it was in a rock form. Herron testified that all of the contraband found in the van—the bags containing the green leafy substance, the bag containing the pills, and the white powdery substance—was located within arm’s reach of the driver’s seat. Officer Herron questioned Collins and Walker about the drugs found in the van, and they both informed Officer Herron that they did not know anything about the drugs.
Herron admitted that he did not know who owned the Nissan Quest that Alford was driving. Officer Herron explained that the van had a used dealership tag on the license plate. Officer Wooten later testified that he and Officer Herron ran a check on the vehicle to determine who owned it, and at the time they ran the check, the results revealed that the vehicle did not belong to Alford.
Officer Wooten testified that while Officer Herron was talking with Collins and Walker, he arrested Alford due to the existing warrant. Officer Wooten performed a Terry frisk on Alford and discovered many little plastic baggies and a clear plastic bag containing $1,490 in cash on Alford’s person.
Alford was convicted for one count of trafficking methamphetamine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and sentenced to 30 years. On appeal, he argued he was not in possession of the narcotics. MCOA affirmed.
To establish possession of a controlled substance, the State must produce evidence that a defendant (1) was aware of the presence of a substance, (2) was aware of the character of the substance, and (3) was consciously and intentionally in possession of the substance. Possession of a controlled substance may be actual or constructive. See MCOA O’Donnell.
In the case before us, the bags of marijuana were not found in Alford’s physical possession; rather, they were found in the vehicle that he was driving. Additional plastic bags, including one with the cash, were found on his person. Accordingly, the State was required to prove that Alford had constructive possession of the marijuana. The State must constructively establish that Alford was consciously and intentionally in possession of the marijuana by submitting evidence showing that Alford had dominion or control over the marijuana. The elements of constructive possession may be proved by circumstantial evidence. See MCOA Fontenot.
Alford argues that the State failed to prove that he owned the vehicle where the drugs were found or that he was in exclusive possession of the vehicle. We recognize that one who owns a vehicle in which contraband is found is presumed to be in constructive possession of those illicit items. See MCOA Reindollar.
However, as asserted by the State, ownership of the location where the contraband is found is not required to prove possession. 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. In cases like the one before us, where the defendant does not own the vehicle where the contraband is found, the State is required to establish additional incriminating circumstances in order to prove constructive possession. See MCOA Reindollar.
In Reindollar, the defendant argued that the State failed to prove that he had consciously exercised control over the drugs. The defendant asserted that he did not own the vehicle, that he was not in exclusive control of the vehicle, and that he did not know that the drugs were present in the vehicle. On appeal, this Court found the record contained substantial evidence to support the jury’s finding that the defendant possessed methamphetamine. This Court explained that although the record reflected that the defendant was not the owner of the vehicle where the drugs were found, the defendant admitted that he had driven the vehicle. This Court also found that the State presented testimony from a police officer stating that a set of scales, which are commonly used for weighing narcotics, and two bags containing methamphetamine were found in close proximity to the driver’s seat.
Similarly, we find the record in this case reflects sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Alford knew the nature of the substances found in the vehicle and that he consciously possessed them. Although Alford did not own the vehicle, the State presented other incriminating circumstances, in addition to proximity, to support a finding that Alford constructively possessed the drugs.
Officer Herron and Officer Wooten testified that Alford was driving the vehicle where the drugs were found. The officers testified they observed a digital scale and razor in plain view on the center console of the van, and they found plastic bags containing drugs in close proximity to the driver’s seat. Officer Wooten testified that when he searched Alford, he found many plastic bags, as well as a clear plastic bag containing $1,490 in cash.
Officer Herron testified that when he approached the vehicle, he could clearly smell marijuana coming from the vehicle. Additionally, we find no merit to Alford’s argument that the State failed to show that he was in exclusive possession of the van. The MSC has stated that contraband may be possessed by more than one person at a time. Possession of a controlled substance may be actual or constructive, individual or joint. See MSC Haynes.