James Marion Moorman, Public Defender, and Chandra Waite Dasrat, Special Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.
Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Danilo Cruz-Carino, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.
Raidel Cordero-Artigas appeals his convictions and sentences for manufacture of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. See §§ 893.13(1)(a)(2), .147(1), Fla. Stat. (2007). He argues that the trial court should have granted his motion for judgment of acquittal because the State's evidence was insufficient to convict him. We agree and reverse.
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Bureau suspected that a newly built North Port residence was a marijuana grow house. Detective Torres conducted surveillance on the house for two months. During that time, he observed but four individuals at the property. One was Mr. Cordero. Detective Torres first saw him on December 13, 2007, in the garage. Two white pickup trucks were parked outside. He did not see Mr. Cordero go inside the house. Later, Mr. Cordero and his cousin, Alfredo Lazo, left in one of the trucks. Detective Torres learned that the other truck belonged to Antonio Herrero. Detective Torres acknowledged that marijuana plants most likely were not on the property that day.
On December 15, Detective Torres saw one white pickup truck at the house. He next saw a white Ford Crown Victoria at the house on January 2, 2008. It was in the driveway backed up close to the garage. Detective Torres saw construction supplies in the garage. Several hours later, Mr. Herrero came out of the house and drove away in the Crown Victoria.
On January 16, Detective Torres observed that a new fence had been installed. On January 17, another detective, Detective Eastwood, reported what he believed was air conditioner noise. On January 18, Detective Torres saw both Mr. Herrero's white truck and Crown Victoria in the driveway.
Detective Torres saw Mr. Cordero for a second time on February 8, 2008. Mr. Cordero drove a Mustang and parked on the street in front of the house. He did not go into the house; he only picked up Mr. Herrero and Mr. Herrero's wife, Magnolia Cabrera, and drove away. Detective Torres followed the Mustang onto I-75 southbound and radioed Florida Highway Patrol to stop the vehicle. A trooper stopped them for speeding. The trooper also conducted a consensual search of Ms. Cabrera's handbag; he found no contraband.
On February 20, 2008, Detective Torres obtained and executed a search warrant for the house. He found marijuana plants and a host of growing paraphernalia. Two sheets of paper taped to a wall in the south grow room contained instructions for fertilizing marijuana. A right thumb print and a left index finger print on the back of one page and the front of the other page matched Mr. Cordero's prints. Mr. Lazo's fingerprints were on an air conditioner in that room. A fingerprint expert testified at trial that she reviewed ninety fingerprints from the grow house. Of the ninety prints found in the grow house, only the two on the instructions matched Mr. Cordero's prints.
Arrest warrants issued for Mr. Herrero, Ms. Cabrera, Mr. Lazo, and Mr. Cordero. Mr. Herrero and Ms. Cabrera were never found. After his arrest, Mr. Cordero offered to assist in the investigation. He told detectives that he knew from a comment Ms. Cabrera made at the traffic stop that she and Mr. Herrero were operating a grow house. Mr. Lazo was arrested, but the charges against him were dropped. He was listed as a defense witness for Mr. Cordero, but he did not appear at trial.
The trial court denied Mr. Cordero's motion for a judgment of acquittal, and the
jury convicted him as charged. The trial court denied his renewed motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict. The State takes the position that Mr. Cordero's presence at the house on two occasions, his fingerprints on the instructions, and his ...