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State of Ohio v. Lavelle Moore

November 10, 2011

STATE OF OHIO PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
LAVELLE MOORE DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-541111

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Conway Cooney, J.:

Cite as State v. Moore,

JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

JUDGMENT:

AFFIRMED

BEFORE: Cooney, J., Blackmon, P.J., and Stewart, J.

{¶1} Defendant-appellant, Lavelle Moore ("Moore"), appeals his conviction for possession of crack cocaine. We find no merit to the appeal and affirm.

{¶2} In September 2010, Moore was charged with drug trafficking, drug possession of between 10 and 25 grams of crack cocaine, and possession of criminal tools, with forfeiture specifications. The case proceeded to a jury trial at which the following evidence was presented.

{¶3} Detective Robert Martin ("Martin") of the Cleveland police vice unit, testified that on the evening of August 18, 2010, while he was conducting surveillance outside a known "drug house" in the area of East 117th Street and Sellers Avenue, he observed a male standing at the driver's window of a Chrysler Pacifica holding a plastic baggie. Martin testified that, based on his years of training and experience, this activity was indicative of drug trafficking. As he approached the Pacifica, he heard someone yell, "vice." Martin observed the man close his hand around the bag and walk quickly around the Pacifica to the passenger door before the vehicle drove off.

{¶4} Martin followed the vehicle and called take-down units that stopped the Pacifica approximately one mile away. Officer Brian Moore, who conducted the stop with Officer Joseph Hageman ("Hageman"), testified that as he approached the passenger side of the vehicle, he observed Moore in the front passenger seat in an awkward position with his back turned to the window and his arms reaching toward the floor. After ordering Moore out of the car, Hageman observed a piece of clear plastic material sticking out between the car's molding and a plastic flap alongside the center console near the floor. Hageman pulled the plastic, and a bag of crack cocaine fell out. Police patted down Moore and found $815 in Moore's front pocket, including a $100 bill and twenty-eight $20 bills.

{¶5} Moore's brother, Rashaondell Moore ("Rashaondell"), testified for the defense, claiming the crack belonged to him. He testified that Lisa Adams ("Adams") picked him up on her way to pick up Moore from work and that Adams had no idea that he possessed a bag of crack. He explained that he was sitting in the front passenger seat and Moore was in the back seat when Adams dropped him off at the crack house on East 117th Street. When he heard someone yell "vice," he hid the cocaine behind the panel alongside the center console before exiting the car and disappearing into the neighborhood. Police stopped the car minutes later and found Moore in the front passenger seat in close proximity to the drugs.

{¶6} The jury found Moore guilty of possession of crack cocaine but not guilty of drug trafficking or possession of criminal tools. The court sentenced Moore to seven years in prison, a $15,000 fine, and three years of mandatory postrelease control. Moore raises four assignments of error on appeal.

Manifest Weight of the Evidence

{¶7} In the first assignment of error, Moore argues his conviction is against the manifest weight of the evidence. He contends the State witnesses were not reliable and the evidence demonstrated that Rashaondell placed the drugs behind a floor panel in the car without his knowledge.

{¶8} A challenge to the manifest weight of the evidence attacks the verdict in light of the State's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d 380, 386-387, 1997-Ohio-52, 678 N.E.2d 541. When reviewing a claim that the judgment was against the manifest weight of the evidence, we review the entire record, weigh both the evidence and all the reasonable inferences, consider the credibility of witnesses and determine whether, in resolving conflicts in the evidence, the jury clearly lost its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered. Id. Therefore, an appellate court will overturn a conviction due to the manifest weight of the evidence only in extraordinary circumstances to correct a manifest miscarriage of justice, and only when the evidence presented at trial weighs heavily in favor of acquittal. Id. at 387.

{¶9} Moore was convicted of drug possession in violation of R.C. 2925.11(A), which provides that "[n]o person shall knowingly obtain, possess, or use a controlled substance."

{¶10} Although Rashaondell testified that he owned the cocaine found in the vehicle, the record contains overwhelming evidence supporting Moore's conviction. First, Martin testified that he observed a male holding a plastic baggie up to the driver's window of the Pacifica, which was parked across the street from a known crack house. Martin could clearly see the plastic baggie because the Pacifica was parked directly beneath two street lights. Martin's suspicions of drug activity were corroborated when someone yelled "vice," and the man with the baggie immediately went around the car to the passenger side of the vehicle as if to evade detection.

{¶11} Although Martin did not actually see Moore get into the Pacifica because his view was blocked by the rear of the vehicle, he testified that there was no one left in the street when the vehicle drove away. When the take-down units stopped the vehicle minutes later, police observed Moore reaching down to the location where the drugs were found. The jury had the opportunity to view the plastic flap behind which the drugs were hidden, and could see that the flap could be easily removed and replaced. The jury could reasonably infer that Moore attempted to hide the cocaine behind the flap when police stopped the vehicle.

{ΒΆ12} Even if Rashaondell "owned" the drugs, there was competent, credible evidence demonstrating that Moore knew the drugs were in the car, and that he was able to control the "premises" where the drugs were located. Therefore, Moore's conviction for the possession ...


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