This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).







State of Minnesota,





Mikko Clayton Epps,




Filed October 30, 2001

Foley, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. 99118081



Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, J. Michael Richardson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Scott G. Swanson, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Foley, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

FOLEY, Judge

            Appellant challenges his conviction for second-degree controlled substance crime, arguing that the crack cocaine found under the back seat of the squad car after appellant was transported to jail, and the officers’ testimony that the car was searched after every transport, were insufficient to support his conviction.  Because the reasonable inferences drawn from the circumstantial evidence are consistent with the rational hypothesis that appellant possessed the crack cocaine, we affirm.


In November 1999, Officers Roering and Chancellor were dispatched to a Minneapolis home on a gun call.  The dispatcher informed the officers that they should be looking for an African American male, approximately 30 years old, with a gun near the scene.  When the officers arrived, they noticed a maroon Chevy parked in front of the home, with an African American male sitting in the driver’s seat and a female sitting in the passenger seat.  The officers activated their emergency lights and initiated a suspicious vehicle stop.  Appellant Mikko Clayton Epps exited the vehicle and walked across the street.  Officer Roering asked him to stop and identify himself, and appellant complied by producing his driver’s license.  Officer Roering recognized appellant’s name as someone with a probable cause pick-up.[1]  Officer Roering then escorted appellant to the squad car, pat-frisked him to check for weapons, and placed him in the back seat while both officers went to speak to the female passenger.

            Appellant was transported to jail where he was booked.  During the transport, the officers did not observe any noticeable movements from appellant while in the back seat.  After booking, Officer Roering followed routine procedure by checking the back seat of the squad car.  He removed the seats and the back cushions and checked the floor, back dash, and seat areas of the entire back seat.  Officer Roering lifted the seat cushion and found a baggie of suspected crack cocaine approximately four inches from the back of the seat.  Based on this discovery, appellant was charged with second-degree controlled substance crime.  Following a bench trial, appellant was convicted, and he now appeals from his conviction.


            Appellant argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction for second-degree controlled substance crime, contending that the state did not meet its burden of proof because the circumstantial evidence does not unerringly point to him as the person who placed the crack cocaine under the seat of the squad car in which he was riding.  Appellant suggests that the officers did not search the back seat before they arrested appellant, and because the officers did not find any drugs when they pat-searched him, someone else must have placed the crack cocaine in the car.

An appellate 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).  An appellate court must assume that the fact-finder “believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence.”  State v. McKenzie, 511 N.W.2d 14, 17 (Minn. 1994).  An appellate court will not disturb the verdict if the fact-finder, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude the defendant was guilty of the charged offense.  State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988). 

Circumstantial evidence is entitled to as much weight as other evidence.  Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.  A conviction based on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny, but it will be upheld if the reasonable inferences drawn from the circumstantial evidence are consistent with guilt and inconsistent with any other rational hypothesis.  State v. Walen, 563 N.W.2d 742, 750 (Minn. 1997).

            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.[2]  State v. Florine, 303 Minn. 103, 104, 226 N.W.2d 609, 610 (1975).  If others had access to the location of the controlled substance, constructive possession may be proved if the evidence indicates a strong probability that the defendant exercised dominion and control over the area.  Id. at 105, 226 N.W.2d at 610-11.  This court looks at the totality of the circumstances in assessing whether constructive possession has been established.  State v. Munoz, 385 N.W.2d 373, 377 (Minn. App. 1986).

The purpose of the constructive possession doctrine is to include within the possession statute those cases where the state cannot prove actual or physical possession at the time of arrest, but where the inference is strong that the defendant at one time physically possessed the substance or exercised dominion and control over it.    


State v. Denison, 607 N.W.2d 796, 799-800 (Minn. App. 2000) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. June 13, 2000).

            Here, both officers testified that the squad car was thoroughly searched several times that evening.  First, the squad car was checked before the officers began their shift.  Second, contrary to appellant’s assertion, they stated that the squad car was thoroughly searched after each person was placed in the back seat that evening.  Finally, the squad car was thoroughly searched at the end of their shift.  The officers testified that a typical search involved removing the seats and the back cushions and checking the floor, back dash, and seat area of the entire back seat. 

The officers testified that the pat-search would not necessarily reveal any crack cocaine on appellant’s person because the purpose of a pat-search is to check an individual for weapons.  Also, appellant was alone in the car when the officers spoke to the female passenger, giving appellant time to place the baggie of crack cocaine between the seats without being observed.  Office Chancellor testified that the handcuffs are not particularly tight and do not completely restrict the movement of the individual.  He stated that a person “can usually reach the waistband area” and reach inside pants, pockets, or even move the handcuffs around to the front while in handcuffs.  Based on the officers’ testimony and the totality of the circumstances, the inference is strong that appellant was the person who possessed the baggie of crack cocaine.  Moreover, the officers’ testimony that the back seat was searched before appellant was arrested and the crack cocaine was not found until after appellant was transported is sufficient to disprove the hypothesis that a previous occupant of the squad car possessed the crack cocaine.

            Because an appellate court must assume that fact-finder believed the state’s witnesses, and viewing the officers’ testimony in the light most favorable to the conviction, the reasonable inferences drawn from the officers’ testimony are consistent with appellant’s guilt and inconsistent with any other rational hypothesis.  



* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] All probable cause pick-ups, which consist of a person’s name and picture, are given to police officers during roll call.  Officers know that they should be on the lookout for persons identified in the pick-ups because they are wanted in connection with a crime.

[2] A person is guilty of a controlled substance crime in the second degree if “the person unlawfully possess one or more mixtures of a total weight of six grams or more containing cocaine [or] heroin.”  Minn. Stat. § 152.022, subd. 2(1) (1998).