In 2010, Eddie Brown and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Jamise Floyd, were arrested in Biloxi, Mississippi, for possession of cocaine after police officers discovered the substance in the console of the couple’s vehicle. Brown and Floyd both testified at trial. However, their versions of the events that occurred on the night in question are divergent.
Brown testified that on that night, Floyd called him to pick her up from a friend’s house that evening. Brown was with his cousin, Willie Taylor, who was driving Brown and Floyd’s vehicle at the time Brown received the alleged call. Brown asserted that another cousin was also present in the vehicle at the time.
Brown stated that after picking up Floyd, the four of them drank beer together before the two cousins were dropped off at home. Brown then said he drove himself and Floyd to a local gas station, where he bought drinks and cigarettes, and where they both used the restroom. While Floyd was still in the restroom, Brown stated he got back in their vehicle, opened the center console to change a compact disc in the vehicle’s audio system, and then noticed police lights in his rearview mirror.
The lights belonged to Officer Richard Hilliard of the Biloxi Police Department. Hilliard was accompanied by two other members of the Biloxi Police Department, who were responding to a call regarding the suspicious behavior of a man and woman at the gas station in a vehicle matching Brown and Floyd’s vehicle’s description.
Brown asserted that Hilliard asked Brown to step out of the vehicle, and then went into the gas station to find Floyd. After retrieving Floyd from inside the gas station, the officers asked to search the vehicle. Brown stated that Floyd vehemently refused to allow the officers to search the vehicle and caused a scene in the gas-station parking lot. The officers arrested her for public drunkenness. Brown was arrested soon thereafter when the officers discovered he had a warrant issued for his arrest for a misdemeanor offense.
Hilliard called for a tow truck to retrieve the vehicle, but did an on-site inventory search prior to the vehicle’s departure. He discovered a small plastic bag of a white substance in the center console (4.7 grams cocaine).
Floyd testified that she broke up with Brown on the day in question, and told Brown to remove his belongings from their home. She asserted that she was socializing at a friend’s house when Brown found her and forced her into their car. She affirmed that two other people were present in the vehicle when Brown forced her into the back seat.
After dropping off the other two people, Floyd and Brown had a heated argument in the vehicle while Brown was driving. Floyd demanded that Brown stop the vehicle and let her out. She asserted that he refused, so she attempted to choke him with a seatbelt.
Shortly thereafter, Brown stopped at the gas station. Floyd stated that both of them went into the gas station. She claimed she went to the restroom with the intent of calling a friend to pick her up. While in the restroom, the officers arrived on the scene and asked her to come back to the car. When she arrived at the vehicle, the officers asked for Brown and Floyd’s permission to search the car. Floyd admitted that she adamantly refused, claiming she did not feel the officers had cause to search the vehicle because they did not stop the car.
Officer Hilliard version
Hilliard stated that upon arriving at the gas station, he parked behind Brown’s car and left his police lights on. He noted that Brown was the only occupant in the vehicle. He further stated that he observed Brown open the center console and reach into the console. During this time, Hilliard could see Brown’s face through the driver’s window and in the rearview mirror. He stated that Brown began looking around frantically and appeared nervous.
Hilliard asked Brown to step out of the vehicle. He asked Brown for identification, at which point Brown told Hilliard that he was simply waiting for his fiancé, Floyd, to return from the restroom. Hilliard retrieved Floyd, and immediately noticed that she was glassy eyed, smelled of alcohol, and was stumbling.
Hilliard asked Brown and Floyd for identification, which they told him was in their vehicle. When Hilliard asked if he could retrieve their identification cards for them, Floyd became irate. Hilliard confirmed that Floyd was arrested for public drunkenness, Brown was arrested for an outstanding warrant, and the 4.7 grams of cocaine was discovered by him during an inventory search of the vehicle.
Brown was convicted of possession of cocaine and sentenced to 32 years as a habitual offender. On appeal, he argued the cocaine belonged to his cousin, who was riding in the front seat of the vehicle shortly before officers detained Brown and Floyd. MCOA affirmed.
In Knight, the MSC held that possession of a controlled substance may be actual or constructive. Constructive possession exists when the evidence shows that the defendant knowingly exercised control over the contraband. One factor in determining whether constructive possession existed is the defendant’s proximity to the drug; however, other incriminating circumstances must also be met.
Such circumstances have historically included:
When: (1) the defendant owned the premises where the drugs were found and failed to rebut the presumption that he was in control of such premises and the substances within; or (2) the defendant did not own the premises but was sufficiently tied to the drugs found there by (a) exerting control over the premises when he knew or should have known of the presence of the substance or (b) placing himself in the midst of items implicating his participation in the processing of the substance.
Furthermore, the MSC has reiterated the well-settled principle of law in Wall that the owner of a vehicle is presumed to be in constructive possession. Jerome Wall was the owner and operator of a vehicle in which marijuana was discovered. The marijuana was discovered in the passenger compartment of the vehicle, where a friend of Wall’s had been located. Wall maintained that the marijuana was not his, but must have belonged to his passenger.
Nonetheless, Wall failed to present any evidence to overcome the constructive possession presumption other than his insistence that there was a passenger present in the vehicle with him. The MSC noted that the presence of a passenger in the vehicle with Wall was of no consequence to the presumption that he constructively possessed the marijuana. Rather, the MSC stated that, at best, it was quite possible to have joint constructive possession.
Here, the officers who responded to the call at the gas station each testified that Brown was acting nervously and suspiciously. One officer even testified that Brown continued to try to get back into the vehicle, claiming he wanted a cigarette. Hilliard testified that when he approached the vehicle, he could see Brown open the center console, where the cocaine was later discovered, and reach into it.
Brown himself testified that he opened the center console to look for a compact disc prior to realizing the officers were behind him. Finally, the record reflects that Brown is an official owner of the vehicle in which the cocaine was found.
As in Wall, Brown presented no evidence to rebut the constructive-possession presumption other than a showing that another person had been in the passenger’s seat immediately prior to the incident. Accordingly, Brown’s arguments that the evidence was insufficient and the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence fail. The circuit court’s judgment was proper, and these issues are without merit.