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State v. Evans

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

March 1, 2018


         Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-16-609952-A

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Paul A. Mancino, Jr. Mancino Mancino & Mancino

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Christine M. Vacha Assistant County Prosecutor

          BEFORE: Stewart, J., E.T. Gallagher, P.J., and S. Gallagher, J.



         {¶1} Federal agents in California attached a GPS tracking device to a package of marijuana that had been shipped to the Cleveland area. That package found its way into a vehicle driven by defendant-appellant Keisha Evans, leading to her conviction on a single count of drug possession. In this appeal, she complains: (1) that there was insufficient evidence to show that she knowingly possessed a controlled substance; (2) that the court erred by denying her motion to suppress evidence seized in a search of her house; (3) that the court erred by ordering her to forfeit her vehicle; (4) that the court erred by refusing to allow her to call a witness; and (5) that the court erred by limiting cross-examination. We find no error and affirm.

         I. Insufficient Evidence

         {¶2} Because it is potentially dispositive, we first consider Evans's argument that the state failed to present sufficient evidence of drug possession. She maintains that the state did not show that she had knowledge of the contents of the package.

         {¶3} The state charged Evans with drug possession under R.C. 2925.11(A). That section states that no person shall knowingly possess marijuana in an amount exceeding 5, 000 grams but is less than 20, 000 grams. "Possession" in this context means "having control over a thing or substance, but [possession] may not be inferred solely from mere access to the thing or substance through ownership or occupation of the premises upon which the thing or substance is found." R.C. 2925.01(K).

         {¶4} The evidence showed that federal agents in California became suspicious of two identical packages, mailed through a delivery service account to a Cleveland residence. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to the presence of drugs. The agents obtained a search warrant and opened one of the packages to discover bricks of marijuana. The federal agents coordinated with Cleveland police to send the remaining unopened package to Cleveland. A drug-sniffing dog in Cleveland alerted to the presence of marijuana in that package. Concerned that opening the package might alert its recipient, the police obtained a warrant to place a GPS tracking beacon on the package. The police conducted a controlled delivery of the package. Several vehicles later arrived at the house and the officers conducting surveillance noticed from the tracking beacon that the package had been moved throughout the house. The tracking beacon then went silent, consistent with it programming to enter "sleep" mode when not moving. Evans left the house and the beacon reactivated. Because the beacon had a 30-second delay upon exiting sleep mode, the officers concluded that Evans left with the package. A marked police car stopped Evans's vehicle. The police located the package in the rear of the vehicle. They opened the package and discovered that it contained almost 25 pounds of marijuana. The police subsequently obtained a warrant to search Evans's house. That search uncovered evidence of marijuana, scales, a vacuum sealing machine, and a coat containing $18, 000 in cash wrapped in aluminum foil and plastic wrap.

         {¶5} Evans testified that she had no knowledge of what the package contained; she claimed that a friend asked her to pick up and deliver the package. She admitted that she had a similar delivery for the friend about six weeks previously, and that she had been paid $500. The marijuana found in Evans's house was stored in suitcases. Evans testified that she had only lived in the house for just over a month and that she did not own the suitcases, but conceded the suitcases were not leftover from the previous tenant. With respect to the cash found in the house, Evans testified that her oldest son's father gave her the money to use as college tuition for the son. She admitted that the money had been wrapped in plastic and placed in a coat that she stored in a closet.

         {¶6} Viewing these facts and all permissible inferences in favor of the state, State v. Kirkland, 140 Ohio St.3d 73, 2014-Ohio-1966, 15 N.E.3d 818, ¶ 138, we conclude that the state presented sufficient evidence that Evans possessed the drugs found in her vehicle. A rational trier of fact could infer from the trial testimony that Evans picked up the package and placed it in her vehicle, a fact established when the police found the package in her vehicle. The sole question was whether she knew that the package contained drugs. The jury could rationally infer that Evans knew the package contained drugs. She had previously been paid $500 to deliver a similar package. This was such a large amount of money for such a mundane task that Evans would, or should, reasonably have understood that she was being compensated based on the contents of the package rather than the effort it took to deliver it. And when evidence of marijuana, scales that could be used to weigh drugs, a vacuum sealer that could be used to package drugs, and the large of amount of wrapped cash hidden in the coat are considered together with the amount of money that Evans had previously been paid to deliver a similar package, a strong inference arises that Evans knew the package contained marijuana.

         II. Motion to Suppress

         {¶7} Following Evans's arrest, the police went to the address listed on her driver's license. It turned out that the address was not current (a different person lived there). The police found a second address listed on checks that Evans carried in her purse. They arrived at the house to find an open door. Officers entered the house to secure the premises and then waited outside until they obtained a search warrant for the premises. Evans argues that the police illegally ...

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