This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Miguel Anjel Meza a/k/a Juan Dominguez,
Dakota County District Court
File No. K0983279
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Scott A. Hersey, Assistant County Attorney, Judicial Center, 1560 Highway 55, Hastings, MN 55033 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Lawrence Hammerling, Deputy Public Defender, Sharon E. Jacks, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Halbrooks, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*
Appellant challenges his conviction of two counts of aiding and abetting first-degree controlled substance crime, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he intended to collaborate with the principal to possess and/or sell drugs. Appellant contends that his conviction was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, and that the evidence does not exclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, every reasonable inference other than his guilt. Because there is sufficient evidence to support the conviction, we affirm.
At approximately 6:30 a.m. on December 24, 1998, police officers Steven Anselment and Scott Heath responded to a report of an individual attempting to get into an apartment where he did not live. Upon entering the apartment complex, the officers observed a shoeless, obviously intoxicated man swaying in front of apartment 217. The officers had difficulty communicating with the man because of a language barrier.
The man produced identification with the name Juan Ramos. Ramos indicated that he lived in apartment 227 with a friend. The identification had an address on it that was not located within the apartment complex. The officers knew that there was no apartment 227 in the building, and the residents of apartment 217 told officers that Ramos did not live in 217. Ramos was unable to provide the name of his friend.
The officers decided to take Ramos to a detoxification facility because of his highly intoxicated state. Ramos was handcuffed and escorted to the lobby area on the way out of the building. In the lobby, Officer Anselment again asked Ramos for the name of his friend in a final attempt to leave him with someone sober. Anselment pressed the apartment buzzer of the name he thought Ramos was attempting to say. The inner security door electronically unlocked, indicating that someone had responded, and Officer Heath reentered the building.
In the first-floor hallway, Officer Heath walked in the direction of a noise and found appellant, Miguel Meza, a/k/a Juan Dominguez, in the hallway. Appellant was extremely intoxicated, covered in vomit, soaked, and carrying a whiskey bottle. Heath believed he had found someone involved in the situation and notified Anselment. Officer Anselment then reentered the building with Ramos.
Anselment asked Ramos if he knew appellant. Ramos indicated that he did by nodding his head. Heath asked the men which apartment they were from and then followed them down the hall. They stopped in front of apartment 117, where the door had been left wide open.
Heath asked the men if 117 was their apartment and whether anyone sober was inside, to which neither man responded verbally. Appellant made a hand gesture toward the apartment which Heath interpreted as an invitation to enter. Heath followed appellant into the apartment, and through the apartment to a bedroom.
Anselment and Ramos walked into the foyer of the apartment. From that vantage point, Anselment saw water from the kitchen sink overflowing onto the floor. Anselment could also see the dining room table. On the table was a large amount of white powder and some $100 bills. Because Anselment believed the powder to be cocaine, he announced to Heath that there were controlled substances present, and that Heath should bring appellant back into the living room.
The officers arrested Ramos and appellant and had them sit on the living room couch. Appellant immediately passed out. On the floor near appellant, officers found a resident alien card with a photo matching appellant. The name on the card was Juan Dominguez. The officers then conducted a cursory search for weapons during which more contraband was found. They found two baggies containing a substantial amount of currency and three baggies containing a white powdery substance in an open kitchen drawer. A scale was found by the couch in the living room. The officers secured the scene and called the South Metro Drug Task Force to investigate.
A search warrant was obtained by Task Force Officer Christopher Erickson, and the currency and suspected cocaine were seized. The white powder tested positive as cocaine, weighing 92.77 grams. The cash found in the apartment totaled more than $26,000.
Appellant was charged with two counts of first-degree controlled substance crime for aiding and abetting the sale of 10 or more grams of cocaine and/or the possession of 25 or more grams of cocaine, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.021, subds. 1(1), 2(1), and 609.05, subd. 1 (1998). Appellant’s motions, to suppress the evidence seized at the apartment and to dismiss, were denied following a joint omnibus hearing. Appellant waived a jury trial and was tried by the court on stipulated facts. The court found appellant guilty on both charges. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
This court’s review of the sufficiency of the evidence is limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction, sufficiently supports the verdict. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). Circumstantial evidence is entitled to as much weight as other evidence. Id. We must view the evidence in the light most favorable to respondent and assume that the factfinder believed respondent’s witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence. State v. McKenzie, 511 N.W.2d 14, 17 (Minn. 1994); State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). We will not disturb a verdict if the factfinder acted with due regard for the presumption of innocence and for the necessity of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Davidson, 481 N.W.2d 51, 58 (Minn. 1992) (quoting State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988)).
A conviction based on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny, but is proper if the circumstances proved are consistent with guilt and inconsistent with any other rational hypothesis. State v. Walen, 563 N.W.2d 742, 750 (Minn. 1997). We must ask
whether the reasonable inferences legitimately drawn from the circumstantial evidence presented at trial “are consistent with [appellant’s] guilt and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt.”
State v. Scharmer, 501 N.W.2d 620, 622 (Minn. 1993) (citation omitted) (alteration in original). The law “do[es] not require that the evidence be consistent only with a specific theory advanced by the prosecution.” State v. Race, 383 N.W.2d 656, 662 (Minn. 1986).
The stricter standard of appellate review of a conviction based on circumstantial evidence still recognizes a jury is in the best position to evaluate the circumstantial evidence surrounding the crime, and its verdict is entitled to due deference.
Id. (citations omitted).
A person is liable for the crime of another if
the person intentionally aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with or otherwise procures the other to commit the crime.
Minn. Stat. § 609.05, subd. 1 (1998). Presence, companionship, and conduct before and after the offense are circumstances from which participation in another’s crime may be inferred. In re Welfare of D.K.K., 410 N.W.2d 76, 77 (Minn. App. 1987). “Conspiracy need not be established by direct evidence, but may be inferred from the circumstances.” State v. Watson, 433 N.W.2d 110, 114-15 (Minn. App. 1988) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 10, 1989).
To impose liability under [§ 609.05], the state must show that the defendant encouraged the principal to take a course of action which he might not otherwise have taken. The state meets its burden, however, by showing some knowing role in the commission of the crime by a defendant who takes no steps to thwart its completion.
State v. Russell, 503 N.W.2d 110, 114 (Minn. 1993) (quotations omitted).
Appellant asserts that he was only a visitor at the apartment and that mere presence, inaction, knowledge, or passive approval is insufficient to prove that he intentionally aided Ramos. But a person is guilty of possession of a controlled substance if he or she knows the nature of the substance, and either physically or constructively possesses it. State v. Florine, 303 Minn. 103, 104, 226 N.W.2d 609, 610 (1975). An individual may constructively possess a controlled substance alone or with others. State v. Denison, 607 N.W.2d 796, 799 (Minn. App. 2000).
Constructive possession may be proved by showing either that (1) the controlled substance was found in an area under the defendant’s control and to which others normally had no access; or (2) if others had access to the location of the controlled substance, the evidence indicates a strong probability that the defendant exercised dominion and control over the area.
Id. at 800. This court looks to the totality of the circumstances in assessing whether or not constructive possession has been established. State v. Munoz, 385 N.W.2d 373, 377 (Minn. App. 1986).
Here, the evidence clearly establishes that appellant was present at the apartment leased to Ramos, and that he was in exclusive control of this apartment for some period of time, the exact length of which is unknown. Appellant was in exclusive control of the apartment during the period of time when officers encountered Ramos in the hallway on another floor. This incident occurred at 6:30 a.m., indicating that the men had been drinking together throughout the night at the apartment. Appellant buzzed Ramos and the officers back into the apartment building following Officer Anselment’s pressing of the apartment buzzer and then led Ramos and the two officers into the apartment. It is clear that both Ramos and appellant were so intoxicated that they were not concerned police would discover the cocaine lying in plain view in the apartment. Ramos told officers that he lived in the building “with a friend.” The officers found a false resident alien card containing appellant’s photograph and the name Juan Dominguez in the apartment. All of these circumstances support the conclusion that appellant exercised a degree of control over the apartment, thereby demonstrating constructive possession of it and its contents.
We conclude that the evidence, taken as a whole, meets the stricter circumstantial evidence standard and identifies appellant, beyond a reasonable doubt, as the person who aided and abetted Ramos.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.