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Mississippi Supreme Court Reverses Conviction Ruling; State Failed to Prove ‘Constructive Possession’ of Marijuana

by Dale Chappell

The State failed to prove that packages of marijuana hidden in a car truck were in the “constructive possession” of a passenger, who was unaware they were there especially when the driver claimed ownership, the Supreme Court of Mississippi held October 12, 2017.

Marvin Carver and his half-brother Nicholas Ingram took a road trip to surprise Ingram’s mother for the holidays. When Ingram was pulled over for speeding, he consented to a search of the car, which turned up a gun under Ingram’s seat and less than a gram of marijuana in the console. Two bags of marijuana also were found hidden in the trunk. Both men waived their rights and talked to law enforcement. Ingram admitted the gun and marijuana were his and that Carver had no idea about the items. Carver admitted they talked about smoking marijuana over the holiday, but did not admit that he was aware of the marijuana in the trunk. Law enforcement assumed he was.

Ingram pleaded guilty, but Carver went to trial. Carver was found guilty of possession of marijuana and sentenced to six years in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal.

Carver then appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court on the issue of whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict that he constructively possessed the marijuana in the trunk. The Supreme Court said it was not.

To establish “constructive possession,” the Court said, the State had to prove Carver “was both aware of the contraband and intentionally, although not physically, possessed it.” Further, Carver had to have “dominion or control” over the marijuana.

The Court discussed its previous decisions in which marijuana was found hidden under the hood of a car, in the trunk of a car, and in a container inside a car, all without the respective defendant’s knowledge. In those cases, the Court held evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for constructive possession of the marijuana. Even if Carver had known about the marijuana, “mere presence in the [car] where the marijuana was found, without more, is simply not enough,” the Court instructed.

“The biggest obstacle in this case is the issue of dominion and control,” the Court said. “Mere presence does not indicate ... an inference of dominion and control.” Further, “Ingram took full responsibility for everything illegal that had been found inside the vehicle,” the Court noted.

The Court of Appeals, however, found that Carver’s intent to smoke marijuana over the holiday was enough to prove constructive possession of the marijuana in the trunk. “We disagree,” said the Supreme Court. “No evidence established that Carver had exercised dominion or control over the marijuana found in the trunk,” the Court determined.

The State had to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” Carver had constructive possession of the marijuana in the trunk, the Court said. The Court of Appeals’ decision that Carver provided “no evidence at trial that suggested [he] did not exercise dominion and control” over the marijuana was wrong, the Supreme Court ruled. The Court explained “it was the State’s burden to prove that Carver exercised dominion or control over the marijuana; it was not Carver’s burden to prove a negative or his innocence.” The Court concluded that the State failed to prove Carver had constructive possession of the marijuana.

Accordingly, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and rendered Carver’s conviction and sentence. See: Carver v. State, 227 So.3d 1090 (2017). 

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