While profiling incoming packages, a federal agent flagged a brown box that was en route to Canton, Mississippi, from California. He noticed the recipient’s name, “E. Morris,” was not associated with the package’s receiving address. Likewise, the sender’s name was apparently fictitious.
Because the agent suspected packages coming from a particular zip code in California could contain marijuana, the agent lined up a collection of similar boxes and included the one addressed to “E. Morris” among them. A drug-sniffing dog alerted on the package addressed to E. Morris.
The agent and sheriff’s office planned a controlled delivery to the Canton address. The agent disguised himself as a postal mail carrier and presented the package to a man, later identified as Mario Franklin, who was standing outside the house. Franklin informed the undercover agent that “E. Morris” was not present at that moment and that the agent could leave the package at the door.
At the front door, the agent met a woman named Shanteka Morris. Morris told the agent that the package wasn’t for her. Despite her comment, she took the package and set it on the living room couch, where it fell near the front door. She was on her way to her mother’s house across the street when authorities stopped her and commanded her to return to the apartment she came from.
Franklin and Morris were arrested in the living room for drug possession. Following a pat-down, police confiscated three phones from Franklin’s pockets. He denied owning two of them. However, a subsequent search of the phones revealed “selfies” of Franklin, pictures of large bags of marijuana on a digital scale, and text messages between the phone’s sender and another party referencing slang discussions of drug-dealing transactions.
Authorities searched the rest of the home upon securing a valid warrant. A search of the master bedroom unveiled a black backpack full of marijuana, money orders in the amount of several thousand dollars, and plane tickets from California to Mississippi. Police also found men’s clothing and a pill bottle containing hydrocodone in the same bedroom. Several plastic sandwich bags and a digital scale were likewise recovered.
Meanwhile, Franklin and Morris were detained in the living room. As police were arresting Morris, Franklin asked, “Why are you arresting her? She had nothing to do with this. It’s all mine.”
During trial, Morris testified in order to cooperate with a pre-trial diversion agreement. When questioned about her personal relationship with Franklin at the time of his arrest, Morris stated that she and Franklin were boyfriend and girlfriend. The jury further learned through her testimony that her brother owned the targeted residence. However, Franklin paid rent from time to time when Morris asked him to because he was staying there and had to help with what was going on.
Morris testified that Franklin’s main residence was in California. However, he lived with her from time to time in Mississippi and would stay with her days, sometimes a week, sometimes more, and stayed with her several times in 2018. When he visited Mississippi, he would sleep with her in the back bedroom. Morris stated that she had left a key under the rug for Franklin so that he could have access to the apartment.
The jury discovered through one agent’s testimony that Franklin lived in the same apartment complex in California that was listed as the sender’s address on the packaged marijuana, although the apartment listed did not actually exist. Another agent stated that in his experience, drug- dealers commonly possessed multiple phones to facilitate drug transactions. He also stated that Franklin confirmed the clothes in the master bedroom were his.
Franklin was convicted of possession with the intent to sell and distribute and sentenced to 40 years. On appeal, he argued that constructive possession was not proven here. MCOA affirmed.
Franklin insists his constructive possession conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence. Specifically, he argues there was no evidence that he owned the house where the packaged marijuana was delivered and that the State failed to sufficiently “tie” him to the package.
The U.S. Supreme Court said in Henderson that defendants are charged with constructive possession when they lack physical custody of the contraband for which they are arrested.
In Ferrell v. State, 649 So. 2d 831 (Miss. 1995), MSC said when the defendant owns or controls the premises where the contraband is found, there is a presumption of constructive possession. In Fultz v. State, 573 so. 2d 689 (Miss. 1990), MSC said if the defendant’s possession of the premises is not exclusive, there must be additional incriminating circumstances tying him to the charges.
We very recently addressed an argument identical to Franklin’s in Guss. There, a postal inspector flagged a suspicious package that was coming into this state from California, and was addressed to a fictitious person. After a drug-sniffing dog alerted the inspector to the suspicious package, a controlled delivery to the recipient’s address was set up. An undercover agent left a “pink notification form” at the targeted apartment after no one answered the door. But the defendant’s girlfriend, who rented the apartment, called the next morning to reschedule delivery.
The agent attempted delivery a second time and encountered Guss, who was home alone. After the agent announced the fictitious name to whom the package was addressed, Guss took the package without saying anything. When additional agents surrounded the apartment, Guss attempted to flee before finally surrendering. Police found drugs, digital scales, and weapons in the master bedroom near the defendant’s side of the bed.
Guss argued the evidence was insufficient to show he knew the package contained drugs. However, he was the only person present in the apartment at the time, despite the fact that he did not lease the premises, which established control. We also found that the defendant’s attempt to flee once confronted was incriminating. Moreover, we found persuasive the investigator’s testimony that people who accept packages with fake names are typically aware of the package’s illegal content. We ultimately affirmed the conviction.
B. This case
The facts surrounding Franklin’s case tie him to the contraband found in his girlfriend’s apartment. First, Morris testified that Franklin lived at the residence from time to time. Likewise, he paid rent at the apartment from time to time. In fact, he had paid rent for March 2018, the month before the package was delivered to the house.
Morris further testified that Franklin would stay at the apartment days, sometimes a week, sometimes more, and several times in 2018. During a search of the apartment, his clothes were found in the back bedroom where he commonly slept. And he had independent access to the residence because Morris left him a key to the apartment, which meant he could come and go as he pleased just as if he were the owner of the house.
Several additional factors tie Franklin to the packaged marijuana. For example, the sender’s address listed on the package shared the same physical address as Morris’s California apartment. So the package literally listed the same apartment complex in California where Franklin lived. The only difference was the apartment number, which did not actually exist. Finally, as police were detaining Morris, Franklin asked, “Why are you arresting her? She had nothing to do with this. It’s all mine.”
The evidence is sufficient to establish Franklin’s control of the apartment for purposes of establishing constructive possession of the package. Accordingly, the conviction for constructive possession is affirmed.