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Passenger claim that all drugs belonged to him not credible

Facts

Terrance Chandler appeals the 240-month sentence that the district court imposed after Chandler pled guilty to conspiring to distribute marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(D), and to money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). In particular, Chandler challenges the district court’s decision to hold him accountable for methamphetamine found in his vehicle during a traffic stop. In this case, Chandler argues there was insufficient evidence to establish that he constructively possessed the methamphetamine , given that it was found in a vehicle jointly occupied by Chandler, who had been driving, as well as a passenger. In support, Chandler relies on the passenger’s testimony at the sentencing hearing that the drugs belonged to the passenger and that Chandler had no knowledge of it. The 5th affirmed.

Analysis

Possession may be actual or constructive, may be joint among several defendants, and may be proven by direct or circumstantial evidence. See Ramos-Cardenas. Constructive possession consists of either the ownership, dominion, or control over the contraband itself or dominion or control over the premises in which the contraband is found. See De Leon. However, mere ownership or control over a premises in which contraband is found is insufficient to prove constructive possession in a jointly occupied location. See Mergerson. When a premises is jointly occupied, the Government must present additional evidence of the defendant’s knowing dominion or control of the contraband, besides the mere joint occupancy of the premises, in order to prove the defendant’s constructive possession. See Moreland.

Here, the conclusion that Chandler constructively possessed the methamphetamine did not rest solely on his ownership and control of a jointly occupied premises. First, as part of a drug investigation, investigators had received information that Chandler had just secured a new source of methamphetamine. Second, during the surveillance of Chandler that occurred on the day of the traffic stop, Chandler was observed stopping at a known drug area. Third, an agent with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics testified that he had received information that the purpose of the meeting that day in an area reputed for drug activity was to split up a drug shipment that had arrived. Fourth, according to the trooper’s testimony, the drugs found in the backseat of Chandler’s vehicle were “sitting in plain sight,” although a jacket partially covered some of the methamphetamine. In light of this evidence, the district court did not clearly err in inferring that Chandler constructively possessed the drugs.

To be sure, the vehicle passenger testified that the methamphetamine belonged to him, and that Chandler had no knowledge of it. However, the passenger’s claim of ownership at the sentencing hearing was inconsistent with his denial of ownership during the traffic stop itself (as shown in the dash cam footage). Citing that inconsistency and the passenger’s demeanor while testifying, the district court found that the passenger’s testimony lacked credibility. Thus, contrary to Chandler’s assertions, the district court did not clearly err in finding that the passenger’s testimony was not credible.

 

https://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/23/23-60322.0.pdf