In 1996, Timothy Blissett was traveling northbound on I-55 in Lincoln County, Mississippi, when he was stopped by Shawn Brown, a narcotics agent with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, for following a vehicle too closely and for changing lanes without signaling.
As he approached the vehicle Brown smelled a strong, overpowering odor of a large amount of unburned marijuana and noticed that several air fresheners were scattered throughout the vehicle and that the vehicle was a rental car. Brown asked to see the rental agreement and directed Blissett to step away from the vehicle.
The rental agreement was in the name of one Samuel Epps. There was no other authorized driver listed on the agreement, and the car had been due back to the rental agency five days earlier. Brown observed that Blissett was “overly nervous” when he stopped him and was “visibly shaking” by the time he asked Blissett to step away from the vehicle. Blissett denied there were any illegal substances in the vehicle.
Brown searched the vehicle and found a large amount of marijuana. Blissett’s consent to search the vehicle is disputed. Brown also found a duffel bag containing clothes and a pair of tennis shoes in the trunk. No fingerprints were taken nor were any identification procedures undertaken to determine ownership of the duffel bag, clothes, or tennis shoes.
Blissett testified that Samuel Epps, an “acquaintance,” allowed him to use the rental car to visit a friend in McComb, Mississippi. Blissett drove to McComb, and, not being able to find his friend, began to drive back to Jackson, and was subsequently stopped by Brown. He was pulled over by Brown, who, over Blissett’s objection, searched the vehicle.
Blissett denied there were air fresheners scattered throughout the car while he was driving, asserting that Brown pulled the air fresheners out from under the seats of the vehicle. While Blissett acknowledged ownership of a bag of cassette tapes and a jacket found in the back seat, he denied having any knowledge of the marijuana, duffel bag, clothes, or gym shoes in the trunk.
Blissett was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and sentenced to 30 years. On appeal, he argued the search was illegal and that he was not in possession of the drugs. MSC affirmed.
A. Constructive possession
The State argued that Blissett constructively possessed the marijuana found within the trunk of the vehicle.
The theory of constructive possession was explained in MSC case Curry v. State, 249 So. 2d 414 (Miss. 1971), as follows:
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. It need not be actual physical possession. Constructive possession may be shown by establishing that the drug involved was subject to his dominion or control. Proximity is usually an essential element, but by itself is not adequate in the absence of other incriminating circumstances.
The arresting officer in this case testified to smelling a strong, overpowering odor of unburned marijuana as he approached the vehicle and that air fresheners were scattered throughout the vehicle. The officer explained that the odor of the marijuana was so strong because it was a large amount loosely packed in bags, as opposed to vacuum packed.
Further, Blissett’s nervous demeanor at the time of the stop was inconsistent with a lack of knowledge of the marijuana in the car. The court finds that it is unlikely an acquaintance would allow Blissett to go driving around with marijuana worth an estimated $96,000 unsecured in the trunk. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to believe that Blissett did not question why the deodorizers were scattered throughout the car or suspect something from the overpowering smell of the marijuana.
We therefore believe the State presented circumstantial evidence showing Blissett knew or should have known of the marijuana’s presence in the trunk of the vehicle.
B. Intent to distribute
Blissett also argues that the quantity of the evidence alone is insufficient to establish an intent to distribute. However, this court has held on several occasions that a large quantity of a controlled substance can alone establish an intent to distribute. See, e.g., Boches v. State, 506 So. 2d 254 (Miss. 1987) (348 pounds of marijuana); Keyes v. State, 478 So. 2d 266 (Miss. 1985) (five grocery bags of marijuana).
Two narcotics agents estimated the bags together weighed between 40 and 50 pounds. Both also testified that, in their experience as narcotics agents, this quantity is far beyond what a person would keep for personal consumption. Examining the facts in the light most favorable to the State, sufficient evidence was provided to establish Blissett’s intent to distribute.
C. Automobile exception
We said in Fleming v State, 502 So. 2d 327 (Miss. 1987), that police officers who have legitimately stopped an automobile and who have probable cause to believe that contraband is concealed somewhere within it may conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle as thorough as a magistrate could authorized by warrant.
Blissett was following a vehicle too closely and changing lanes without signaling. The rental agreement showed that Blissett was not an authorized driver and that the vehicle was overdue for return. It was therefore reasonable for the officer to detain Blissett until he could determine whether the car was stolen.
Further, a strong, overpowering odor of unburned marijuana has been held to be probable cause to conduct a search. See MSC cases: Hart v. State, 639 So. 2d 1313 (Miss. 1994); Boches v. State, 506 So. 2d 254, 264 (Miss. 1987).
Therefore, even without Blissett’s consent, which is disputed, there was sufficient proof through the smell of marijuana to give probable cause to search of the vehicle. Blissett’s contention that the evidence must be suppressed is without merit.