may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Melvin Lee Anderson,
Filed August 25, 1998
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 97053211
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota St., St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda M. Freyer, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
Steven P. Russett, Assistant State Public Defender, 875 Summit Ave., Room 371, St. Paul, MN 55105 (for appellant) Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Norton, Judge.
Appellant challenges his conviction for cocaine possession, arguing that the state failed to prove possession beyond a reasonable doubt and that the trial court improperly admitted evidence that he had $725 in his shoe when he was arrested. We affirm.
On June 22, 1997, at about 2:00 a.m., police responded to calls reporting gunfire at a Minneapolis park. When they arrived, the officers saw appellant Melvin Lee Anderson and V.R., a juvenile, sitting on a park bench. Two companions were standing near the bench. As the police approached, appellant and V.R. stood up. One of the officers then saw a handgun and plastic bag containing what was later determined to be 6.5 grams of cocaine base on the bench between where appellant and V.R. had been sitting. Appellant was arrested. During booking, it was discovered that he had $725 in bills hidden under the insole of his shoe.
At trial, V.R. admitted she had been sitting on the park bench with appellant but claimed she did not have any drugs or gun in her possession. Appellant testified that he did not put the gun or cocaine on the bench and that he generally kept his money in his shoe, which he described as his "bank." The jury found appellant guilty, and he was sentenced to 48 months in prison.
In considering a claim of insufficient evidence, this court must determine whether the jury could reasonably have concluded that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant was guilty of the charged offense, reviewing the record and legitimate inferences in the light most favorable to the verdict. Dale v. State, 535 N.W.2d 619, 623 (Minn. 1995); State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). The reviewing court must assume the jury believed the state's witnesses and rejected contradictory evidence. Dale, 535 N.W.2d at 623.
Where a conviction is based on circumstantial evidence, the verdict will be sustained on appeal when the reasonable inferences from such evidence are consistent only with defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt.
State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988). "[A] jury normally is in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence, and * * * their verdict is entitled to due deference." State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989).
Possession of controlled substances includes both actual and constructive possession. State v. Florine, 303 Minn. 103, 104, 226 N.W.2d 609, 610 (1975). A defendant has constructive possession of a controlled substance when it is found "in a place under defendant's exclusive control" or, if found
in a place to which others had access, there is 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. Courts have found constructive possession when drugs were found in close proximity to the defendant. See State v. Cusick, 387 N.W.2d 179, 181 (Minn. 1986) (evidence showing proximity of defendant's wallet to cocaine was sufficient to establish defendant's constructive possession); Ramon v. State, 416 N.W.2d 739, 744 (Minn. App. 1987) (constructive possession established where drugs were found in glove compartment, defendant was in passenger seat, and driver denied possession of drugs), review denied (Minn. Feb. 17, 1988).
Here, the record indicates that the gun and plastic bag of cocaine base were found between where appellant and V.R. had been sitting on the park bench. V.R. denied that either the gun or the cocaine belonged to her. The officer testified that the two companions were standing when he arrived at the scene and that they made no gestures toward the bench. From this evidence, a jury could reasonably infer that appellant was in constructive possession of the bag of cocaine found in close proximity to where he had been sitting.
Rulings on evidentiary matters lie within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on appeal unless there was a clear abuse of discretion. State v. Ashby, 567 N.W.2d 21, 25 (Minn. 1997).
Over appellant's objection, the state introduced evidence that, at the time of his arrest, appellant had $725 in his shoe. Also over defense objection, the police officer was permitted to testify that, based on his experience, persons buying or selling drugs often possess large amounts of money and that "drugs and guns and money generally go together." Appellant contends that the trial court committed reversible error in admitting evidence that appellant, because he possessed $725 at the time of his arrest, fit the profile of a drug dealer.
The trial court did not err in admitting evidence that appellant had $725 on his person when arrested. See State v. Blahowski, 499 N.W.2d 521, 524 (Minn. App. 1993) (in rejecting defendant's insufficiency of evidence challenge, court referred to "large amount of cash" on defendant's person at time of booking), review denied (Minn. June 22, 1993); State v. Collard, 414 N.W.2d 733, 735-36 (Minn. App. 1987) (in rejecting defendant's challenge to sufficiency of evidence, court pointed out that police had found $2,000 concealed in defendant's car), review denied (Minn. Jan. 15, 1988).
More problematic, however, is the police officer's testimony about the correlation between large sums of money and buying or selling drugs. In State v. Williams, 525 N.W.2d 538, 548 (Minn. 1994), the supreme court held that testimony elicited from two police officers that defendant fit a "drug courier profile" used by the officers was "clearly and plainly inadmissible." The court characterized the evidence as a type of "character evidence" from which a jury can infer that, if a defendant's conduct fits the profile, the defendant also is a drug courier. Id. at 547-48. The same inference could apply here. From the officer's testimony about the correlation between large sums of money and drug dealing, the jury could have inferred that, because appellant had with him a large sum of money, he was buying or selling drugs.
A defendant claiming error has the burden of showing both the error and that prejudice resulted from the error. State v. Loebach, 310 N.W.2d 58, 64 (Minn. 1981). Here, the question before the jury was whether appellant constructively possessed the cocaine, not whether he was buying or selling drugs. Had the jury not known about the $725 (and the officer's comments about drugs and money), it still could have reasonably concluded that appellant "possessed" the bag of cocaine found where he had been sitting on the park bench. This error was not prejudicial.
*Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.