In 2005, Tunica County Deputy Sheriff Willie Dunn and Deputy Paul Biggins were returning from a lunch meeting. They were traveling south on Highway 61 in an unmarked car. The officers observed a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice traveling south well below the speed limit. They passed the Caprice, and deputy Biggins noticed that there were several tires in the backseat of the Caprice. He and deputy Dunn decided to pull the car over and question the driver about the tires because Tunica County had recently experienced numerous car burglaries.
Dunn asked the driver, Laefaebei Stingley, for his driver’s license. Stingley replied that his license had been suspended. Dunn ran his license number and confirmed that it was suspended. The officers arrested Stingley and discovered that the passenger, Perry Broadway, had been drinking.
The officers then conducted an inventory search of the car. Dunn opened the trunk of the car and found a duffle bag. In the bag, he found several garbage bags, which contained several kilograms of marijuana. The marijuana was packaged in both loose and brick form ($40,000 – $60,000 value).
Detective Pettis stated that neither Stingley’s nor Broadway’s fingerprints were on the duffle bag, the garbage bags, or any of the small bags of loose marijuana. However, she testitified that when Stingley was asked why he had this much marijuana, he stated he was going to have a Cheech and Chong party.
Stingley testified that he was driving to Memphis because he had to meet with his parole officer. His mother was unable to take him, and his car did not work. So, he borrowed his cousin’s car. Mr. Broadway asked if he could ride with him, and Stingley consented. Stingley drove Broadway to a tire shop in Memphis and left him there while he met with his parole officer.
Next, Stingley parked the car downtown at a valet parking garage and gave an attendant the keys. After the meeting, he picked up Broadway at the tire store. Stingley testified that Broadway put several tires in the back of his cousin’s car. They started traveling south on Highway 61 where they were eventually stopped by deputies Dunn and Biggins.
Stingley testified that he never opened the trunk during the trip. He stated that Broadway was the only person to open the trunk during the trip. He said that Broadway opened the trunk and placed a turtle in it that they had found. He further testified that he did not know drugs were in the trunk and that he did not make any statement to detective Pettis regarding a “Cheech and Chong party.”
Stingley was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and sentenced to ten years. On appeal, he argued he was not in possession of the drugs. MCOA affirmed.
In Dixon, MSC said 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. However, there must be sufficient facts to warrant a finding that defendant was aware of the presence and character of the particular substance and was intentionally and consciously in possession of it. It need not be actual physical possession. Constructive possession may be shown by establishing that the drug involved was subject to his dominion or control. Proximity is usually an essential element, but by itself is not adequate in the absence of other incriminating circumstances.
Furthermore, if the defendant is the driver but not the owner of the car that contains the drugs, the State must show additional incriminating facts to link the defendant to the contraband. See Ferrell v. State, 649 So. 2d 831 (Miss. 1995).
In Magee, an officer testified that the defendant in that case confessed to possession of the drugs. We found this testimony by an officer to be significant in establishing constructive possession.
The State in this case presented evidence that established the following facts: (1) Stingley was in possession and control of his cousin’s car when the contraband was found; (2) in Officer Pettis’ opinion, the weight and value of the marijuana indicated that it was intended for distribution and sale; and (3) Officer Pettis testified that Stingley told her he had the marijuana because he was going to have a Cheech and Chong party.
Stingley relies on the case of Fultz v. State, 573 So. 2d 689 (Miss. 1990). In Fultz, the defendant was arrested after failing three field sobriety tests. The officer later returned to inventory the vehicle Fultz was driving. While searching the trunk the officer opened a blue duffel bag. The bag contained several small bags, which contained seven and a half ounces of marijuana. The vehicle belonged to the defendant’s sister and at trial he denied any knowledge of the contraband in the truck.
The MSC found in Fultz that the only additional incriminating circumstance was that the defendant had a small amount of marijuana on his person at the time of the arrest and that this standing, alone, is insufficient to prove any connection between the contraband and the defendant. The court also found that the following facts were insufficient to connect the defendant to the drugs: Fultz admitting he used marijuana, that he had made several unexplained stops during the night, and that it would be illogical for someone to leave their drugs in a vehicle that someone else would drive.
Like Fultz, Stingley was driving the car of a family member, which contained a duffle bag full of marijuana in the trunk. Also, like Fultz, the officer in this case found the drugs after conducting an inventory search of the car. Unlike Fultz, however, there was evidence of Stingley’s admission that he was to use the drugs found in the vehicle.
Like the officer in Magee, Officer Pettis in this case testified that Stingley said he was going to have a Cheech and Chong party, with the marijuana that the officer’s found in his cousin’s car. It is common knowledge that Cheech and Chong movies portrayed excessive drug use. This incriminating confession made in front of several officers after Stingley was arrested would amount to enough evidence to show that Stingley knew of the marijuana’s presence in the trunk of the Chevrolet Caprice because his statement shows that he intended to use the drugs at a party.