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Nervous demeanor and officer’s knowledge of headliner equals constructive possession

Facts

Sergeant Marion Overby testified that on July 18, 2017, he was patrolling on the frontage road of Highway 49 in Richland when he noticed an 18-wheeler parked on Lake Drive facing the highway with a vehicle parked in front of it. According to Overby, the truck was noticeably leaking fluid, so he went to see if the driver needed help.

Overby testified that two men were present on the scene: Charles Cox, the driver of the 18-wheeler, and Charles Reindollar, the driver of the other vehicle. Overby observed both Cox and Reindollar removing items from the 18-wheeler and putting them in the other vehicle. When questioned by Overby, Cox explained that his truck had broken down and that he was waiting on the nearby repair shop to open. Overby testified about his observations of both men during the encounter, stating that Cox and Reindollar were both extremely nervous.

Sergeant Brian Hamilton arrived on the scene to aid Overby. Hamilton testified that Overby informed him that Cox and Reindollar were extremely nervous and he thought that they were under the influence of some type of stimulant. Hamilton opined that based on his training and experience, he believed Reindollar was obviously under the influence of some type of stimulant because Reindollar seemed fidgety, he was sweating, and his pupils were constricted.

Reindollar informed Hamilton that he was driving his brother’s vehicle from Texas to retrieve his friend Cox and that his brother was aware that Reindollar was using the vehicle. Reindollar consented to allow Hamilton to search his brother’s vehicle. Hamilton testified that upon opening the door to the vehicle, digital scales were visible in the door pocket. He also testified that these types of digital scales are commonly used to weigh narcotics.

Hamilton stated that he conducted a field test on the scales, and the scales tested positive for leftover residue of methamphetamine. Hamilton testified that further searching of the vehicle revealed two bags of what appeared to be methamphetamine (4.92 grams). Hamilton explained that he found these two bags stashed in the headliner of the vehicle above the steering wheel.

Hamilton testified that the drugs were not in plain sight to someone inside of the vehicle like the digital scales were, but he clarified that from standing in front of the vehicle, he could see that the headliner had been pulled down.

At the scene Reindollar never admitted to possession of the scales or drugs found in the vehicle, but he did admit to driving the vehicle to Mississippi from Texas. Neither Hamilton nor Overby saw Reindollar or Cox driving to the scene, nor did they see them inside either vehicle.

Reindollar was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to life as a habitual offender. On appeal, he argued he was not in possession of the drugs. MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

Possession of a controlled substance may be actual or constructive. In the present case, because the drugs found by the police were not in Reindollar’s actual possession, but were hidden in the headliner of the vehicle that he was driving, the State was required to prove that Reindollar had constructive possession of the methamphetamine.

MSC said in Haynes that what constitutes a sufficient external relationship between the defendant and the narcotic property to complete the concept of possession is a question which is not susceptible to a specific rule. To establish constructive possession, MSC provided the following guidance: (1) there must be sufficient facts to warrant a finding that the defendant was aware of the presence and character of the particular substance and was intentionally and consciously in possession of it, (2) the drug involved was subject to the defendant’s dominion or control, and (3) proximity is usually an essential element, but by itself it is not adequate in the absence of other incriminating circumstances.

MSC further stated that one who owns a vehicle in which contraband is found is presumed to be in constructive possession of those illicit items. 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 such circumstances, the State is required to establish additional incriminating circumstances in order to prove constructive possession.

In Fontenot, we held that the elements of constructive possession may be proven by circumstantial evidence.

Reindollar maintains 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.

Our review of the record reflects testimony stating that Reindollar was not the owner of the vehicle where the drugs were found but that Reindollar admitted that he had driven the vehicle from Texas to Mississippi with his brother’s permission. Hamilton testified that based on his training and experience, it was obvious that Reindollar appeared to be under the influence of some type of stimulant when he arrived on the scene. He also testified that the set of scales, which are commonly used for weighing narcotics, was located in plain view of the driver and also in reaching distance of the driver’s door pocket.

Moreover, the jury heard testimony from Hamilton stating when Hamilton discovered the scales in the vehicle, they were visible, and there was still residue of a substance on the scales. Tests confirmed that this substance was methamphetamine.

Proof of additional incriminating circumstances developed when Hamilton testified that he discovered two plastic bags containing methamphetamine in the vehicle. Hamilton stated that the two plastic bags containing methamphetamine were located above the driver’s seat in the headliner, which is located above the steering wheel of the vehicle.

With Hamilton’s comprehensive police background and numerous classes for extensive narcotics investigations, including street-level narcotics, criminal interdiction, and narcotics-related interdiction, he stated that the headliner of a vehicle is a common place where people conceal narcotics or paraphernalia.

In the similar case of Fontenot, we found that there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant, Fontenot, of constructive possession of methamphetamine based on circumstantial evidence. Fontenot was standing over the bag of methamphetamine and was the only person inside the hotel room when the police arrived at the door. We held that it was not unreasonable that the jury determined Fontenot was exerting dominion or control over the methamphetamine.

MSC held in Blissett that evidence of constructive possession was sufficient where the defendant did not own the premises but was in control of the premises where contraband was found and knew or should have known that the contraband was present.

The jury also heard testimony regarding Reindollar’s nervous demeanor at the time of the police arriving, which was inconsistent with the lack of knowledge of methamphetamine in the vehicle. Reindollar constructively possessed the methamphetamine found in the vehicle.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/Images/Opinions/CO143069.pdf