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Sanders v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

February 8, 2017

MARCUS FRANKLIN SANDERS, DOC# 788118 Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Lee County; Margaret O. Steinbeck, Judge.

          Rachael E. Bushey of O'Brien Hatfield, P.A., Tampa, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Dawn S. Tiffin, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

          BLACK, Judge.

         Marcus Sanders challenges his conviction and sentence for trafficking in over 200 grams of methamphetamine. Sanders raises several issues on appeal, only one of which has merit. Because the State failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that Sanders was in constructive or actual possession of contraband, the motion for judgment of acquittal should have been granted. Therefore, we reverse.

         I. Background

         On March 28, 2014, Detective Torres was working with a surveillance team watching a residence that was under suspicion for drug-related activity. Detective Torres observed a man and woman come out of the residence and approach a van parked in the driveway. From her vantage point at least 200 feet from the residence, Detective Torres was only able to determine that the man was white and that he was carrying a bag over his left shoulder. The woman entered the van on the driver's side. The man entered the van through the rear sliding door on the passenger's side; Detective Torres was unable to see if the man sat in the front or rear of the van after entering. As the van pulled away from the residence, Detective Torres communicated to area units what she had observed, including the van's direction of travel.

         Detective Tarsia responded and began to follow the van. He noted that the window tint was very dark and that as a result of the dark tint, he could not see any movement within the van. Detective Tarsia initiated a traffic stop due to the dark window tint and upon observing the van fail to stop at a stop sign. As Detective Tarsia approached the driver's side of the van, he observed five people inside: a woman in the driver's seat, a white man in the front passenger's seat, a white man in the back seat on the passenger's side, a child in the middle of the back seat, and a woman in the back seat behind the driver. Detective Tarsia identified Sanders as the white man seated in the back seat on the passenger's side. Detective Tarsia testified that Sanders was acting "unusual" in that he avoided eye contact with the detective. He also observed two unzipped bags between Sanders' feet that looked like "cooler type bags" or duffle bags.

         Detective Tarsia issued the driver two traffic warnings and then asked the driver for consent to search the van. The driver consented to the search, and the occupants were asked to exit the vehicle; the bags remained inside. While conducting the search, Detective Tarsia observed a plastic bottle containing "a lot of substance down at the bottom with some liquid, " a hair dryer, liquid Drano, and salt inside one of the bags. Based on Detective Tarsia's training and experience, he believed that the contents of the bag were used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Detective Tarsia arrested Sanders and searched his person; nothing of evidentiary value was found as a result of the search.

         Detective Gonzalez arrived at the scene and took custody of the bag. The substance in the plastic bottle tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine. A sample of the liquid that was seized was submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for testing, and an FDLE laboratory analyst confirmed that the liquid contained methamphetamine.

         At trial, after the State rested its case, Sanders moved for a judgment of acquittal. Sanders argued that the State had failed to establish that he had been in actual or constructive possession of the bag containing methamphetamine. The State argued that Sanders had been in actual possession of the bag because it was within his arm's reach and under his exclusive control. In the alternative, the State asserted that Sanders had been in constructive possession of the bag. The court denied the motion, finding that the State presented a prima facie case of actual possession due to the location of the bag and Sanders' unusual behavior. Sanders renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the evidence, and it was again denied. The jury found Sanders guilty as charged.

          II. Discussion

         "All possession crimes may be either actual or constructive." Sundin v. State, 27 So.3d 675, 676 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) (citing Chicone v. State, 684 So.2d 736, 738 n.2 (Fla. 1996)). "Possession is actual when the contraband is (1) in the defendant's hand or on his person, (2) in a container in the defendant's hand or on his person, or (3) within the defendant's 'ready reach' and the contraband is under his control." Id. (quoting Harris v. State, 954 So.2d 1260, 1262 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007)). To establish constructive possession, the State must "prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew of the presence of the illegal items [and] was able to exercise dominion and control over them." Hargrove v. State, 928 So.2d 1254, 1256 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (quoting K.A.K. v. State, 885 So.2d 405, 407 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004)). "Under either theory of possession, then, the State must prove that the accused had control of the contraband. And . . . under either theory the ...


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