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Sole occupant in truck found to be in constructive possession of drugs

Facts

William Sidney Beard, Jr. made an agreement to purchase a 1990 International transport truck from Valley Volvo Truck Center in McAllen, Texas on February 19, 1999. Beard tendered a check for $18,500 and was given title to the truck. Beard then left Texas for Alabama.

On February 21, at 4:06 a.m., Beard was pulled over on I 20 in Rankin County, Mississippi by Rankin County Sheriffs Deputy Shannon Penn. Penn pulled Beard over for not having a proper license plate. Beard told the officer that he had just purchased the truck. The officer felt that Beard was acting suspiciously and asked if Beard had anything illegal in the truck. Beard consented to a search of the vehicle.

During his search, Deputy Penn found a small plastic M & M candy container in a side pocket mounted on the passenger’s side of the vehicle which contained what appeared to be crystal methamphetamine. He also found a drinking straw which had been cut in half and small amount of a powdered substance that appeared to be cocaine.

After testing, it was determined that 1.4 grams of methamphetamine was present along with .6 grams of cocaine. The cut drinking straw also contained methamphetamine residue. The State attempted a forfeiture proceeding on the truck after Beard was arrested, but this was unsuccessful because it was found that Beard did not own it. His bank did not honor his check and the truck was returned to Valley Volvo in Texas.

A representative of Valley Volvo testified that the dealership had a procedure of cleaning the interior of vehicles prior to sale and that the items found would have been discarded as trash before turning the vehicle over to the new owner. Beard was convicted of possession of cocaine and methamphetamine and sentenced to eight years. On appeal, he argued he was not in possession of the drugs. MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

The facts show that Beard was the driver of the truck pulled over by Deputy Penn. Illegal drugs were found within arm’s reach and visible to the driver when entering or exiting the truck, although they were not visible from the driver’s seat. MSC said in Hampton v State, 498 So. 2d 384 (Miss. 1986) that possession of a mere trace is sufficient to support conviction.

Residue on the cut straw indicated that the straw had been used to sniff methamphetamine, and it could be inferred by the jury that Beard had used the drug on his way from Texas to Alabama. As testified to by the manager of the dealership, the truck had been cleaned out and was inspected by at least three people before Beard took possession of it. A small M & M container would have been thrown out as trash if found according to the manager’s testimony.

Beard offered no explanation for the drugs and did not testify in his own defense as to who the owner may be. His main argument here is that he did not own the truck and therefore could not have been in control of the drugs. When he was pulled over, however, Beard told Deputy Penn that the truck belonged to him and presented a copy of the documentation showing him as the purchaser of the truck.

Only later did Beard’s bank not honor the truck and ownership reverted to the dealership. At the time of the traffic stop, Beard had been in sole possession of the truck for two days, and there was no evidence presented that anyone else had been present during that interval of time.

This distinguishes Beard’s case from the situation in Curry v. State, 249 So.2d 414 (Miss. 1971), which Beard argues is persuasive in his favor. In Curry, a passenger was present. Beard did not have a passenger, and as the sole driver had control of the truck and its contents.

We said in Mitchell that the State is not required to prove actual physical possession of a narcotic to show possession, but only that it was under the dominion and control of the defendant. There was sufficient evidence presented for a jury to determine that Beard was in exclusive possession of a truck which he claimed to own.

He was on his way to Alabama where, after his bank backed-up his note, he would have been the lawful owner. The truck was clean except for the illegal drugs found by Deputy Penn during his search. The drugs were within arm’s reach of the driver. The lower court acted correctly in denying Beard’s motion for directed verdict, as there was sufficient evidence on which a jury could find Beard guilty of the crime charged. This issue is without merit.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/Conv11707.pdf