This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Ralph Earl Houston,
Filed April 10, 2001
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K3993502
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Darrell C. Hill, Assistant County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Blvd., Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan K. Maki, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414-3230 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
Appellant Ralph Earl Houston was convicted by a jury of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 624.713, subds. 1(b) and 2; 609.11, subd. 5(b) (1998). The sole issue here is whether there is sufficient evidence that Houston possessed a firearm as charged. Because the jury could reasonably have found that Houston had constructive possession of a firearm, we affirm.
On a claim for insufficiency of evidence, the reviewing court must determine if, based on the facts and record and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, a jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant was guilty of the offense charged. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). The evidence is viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, and it can be assumed that the jury believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved contrary evidence. Id. A conviction may be based on circumstantial evidence, which is entitled to the same weight as other types of evidence. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). Where circumstantial evidence is the basis for the conviction, the evidence and inferences drawn from it must be consistent with guilt and inconsistent with any other reasonable hypothesis. Id.
Houston argues that the element of possession is based solely on circumstantial evidence that merits stricter scrutiny. Possession can be either actual or constructive. State v. Florine, 303 Minn. 103, 104, 226 N.W.2d 609, 610 (1975). If constructive possession is alleged, the defendant need not have sole access and control over the possessed item, but there must be a “strong probability (inferable from other evidence) that defendant was at the time consciously exercising dominion and control over it.” Id. at 105, 226 N.W.2d at 611 (citations omitted).
The state has demonstrated an unbroken chain of circumstantial evidence consistent with Houston’s constructive possession of the gun and not with any other reasonable theory. Specifically, Houston, although not the owner of the car he was driving when stopped, had driven the car throughout the day. When stopped, he had an ammunition clip for a 9mm handgun in his pocket. A 9mm handgun was found in plain view on the floor of the passenger’s side of the car. Although Houston was driving the car when it was stopped, he had been sitting on the passenger side just moments before. Testimony placed a handgun of the type found in the car in his hands shortly before he entered the car. Despite this witness’s testimony that Houston had handed her the gun, which she handed to another person, a jury could have found this evidence not credible. The same witness testified that the person who occupied the passenger seat at the time of the stop had no gun when he entered the car.
Based on these facts, the jury could reasonably have concluded that Houston exercised control over the gun and constructively possessed it.