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SMITHERS v. COMMONWEALTH




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SMITHERS

v.

COMMONWEALTH


COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Present: Judges Elder, Bumgardner and Senior Judge Overton

Argued at Richmond, Virginia

Record No. 2144-02-2

ANTOINE CLAYTON SMITHERS

v.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

 

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]BY
JUDGE LARRY G. ELDER

OCTOBER 14, 2003

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND

Richard D. Taylor, Jr., Judge

John B. Mann (Levit, Mann, Halligan & Warren, on briefs),
for

appellant.

Robert H. Anderson, III, Senior Assistant Attorney General

(Jerry W. Kilgore, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Antoine Clayton Smithers (appellant) appeals from his jury trial
conviction for

possession of a firearm while in possession of cocaine or
heroin, in violation of Code

? 18.2-308.4.[2]
On appeal, he contends the evidence was insufficient to prove he possessed the

firearm found on the roof of the house he shared with his sister
and others. We hold the evidence

was sufficient to support the conviction, and we affirm.

Under familiar principles of appellate review, we examine the
evidence in the light most

favorable to the Commonwealth, granting to it all reasonable
inferences fairly deducible

therefrom. Higginbotham v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 349, 352, 218
S.E.2d 534, 537 (1975).

"Circumstantial evidence is as competent and is entitled to
as much weight as direct evidence,

provided it is sufficiently convincing to exclude every
reasonable hypothesis except that of

guilt." Coleman v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 31, 53, 307 S.E.2d
864, 876 (1983). "[T]he

Commonwealth need only exclude reasonable hypotheses of
innocence that flow from the

evidence, not those that spring from the imagination of the
defendant." Hamilton v.

Commonwealth, 16 Va. App. 751, 755, 433 S.E.2d 27, 29 (1993).

Here, appellant was convicted for possessing cocaine and heroin
that Officer Rhodenizer

found on the roof of the house in which appellant resided.
Appellant does not contest those

convictions on appeal. Thus, we consider only whether the
evidence was sufficient to prove he

simultaneously possessed the firearm also found on the roof of
the house.

The possession necessary to support a conviction for the
simultaneous possession of a

firearm and cocaine or heroin pursuant to Code ? 18.2-308.4 may
be actual or constructive. See,

e.g., Logan v. Commonwealth, 19 Va. App. 437, 444, 452 S.E.2d
364, 368 (1994) (en banc).

Establishing constructive possession requires proof "that
the defendant was aware of both the

presence and character of the [item] and that it was subject to
his dominion and control." Powers

v. Commonwealth, 227 Va. 474, 476, 316 S.E.2d 739, 740 (1984). A
person’s ownership or

occupancy of premises on which the subject item is found,
proximity to the item, and statements

or conduct concerning the location of the item are probative
factors to be considered in

determining whether the totality of the circumstances supports a
finding of possession. Archer v.

Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 1, 12, 492 S.E.2d 826, 831-32 (1997).
Possession "need not

always be exclusive. The defendant may share it with one or
more." Josephs v. Commonwealth,

10 Va. App. 87, 99, 390 S.E.2d 491, 497 (1990) (en banc).

Here, Officer Rhodenizer appeared to give conflicting testimony
regarding which

bedroom was appellant’s and which bedroom was his sister’s.
Nevertheless, the only reasonable

hypothesis flowing from the evidence in the record, viewed in
the light most favorable to the

Commonwealth, is that, whether or not the bedroom was
appellant’s, he actually or

constructively possessed the firearm and drugs found outside the
window of that bedroom.

When Officer Rhodenizer entered the house at about 1:00 a.m. to
serve appellant’s sister, Delma

Clarke, with a felony arrest warrant, Clarke was on the first
floor of the residence. When Clarke

went rapidly up the stairs to a second floor bedroom, Officer
Rhodenizer followed five to ten

seconds behind her at a similar pace. Clarke entered the bedroom
and closed the door. When

Rhodenizer had almost reached the top of the stairs, he heard
Clarke say from behind the closed

bedroom door, "The police is downstairs. I think I got a
warrant. The police are downstairs."

"Immediately after hearing this," Rhodenizer reached
the top of the stairs, and behind the same

door, he "heard a noise and a bang, . . . maybe a door
opening or closing."

Officer Rhodenizer then opened the door to the bedroom and saw
appellant standing with

his torso and arms out the open bedroom window. Clarke was
standing on the opposite side of

the room from appellant and the open window, and the evidence
supported the inference that she

had been in the room only a matter of seconds. When appellant
saw Officer Rhodenizer, "[h]is

eyes got real wide" and "his jaw dropped." He
pulled himself back into the room, reached up,

"rapidly" closed the window, and attempted to flee. No
evidence in the record established that

Clarke engaged in suspicious or evasive behavior after
Rhodenizer entered the bedroom.

Although Officer Rhodenizer did not see anything in appellant’s
hands and did not see

appellant make any sort of throwing motion as he leaned out the
window, Rhodenizer

immediately found drugs–both heroin and cocaine–and a firearm
outside the bedroom window.

It had been raining throughout the night, but the rain had
stopped just a few minutes before

Officer Rhodenizer arrived at appellant’s residence at about
1:00 a.m. The firearm, which was

not located under an overhang or anything else that would have
protected it from the rain, was

damp on the bottom but dry on top, permitting the inference that
it had been on the roof for only

a brief period of time. Similarly, the plastic bags containing
the drugs were wet on the outside,

but their contents were not saturated. Although the drugs were
several feet from the window and

appeared to have been thrown onto the roof, the firearm was
directly beneath the open window,

easily within appellant’s reach. When Officer Rhodenizer climbed
back into the room after

finding the drugs and firearm, appellant became agitated and
again attempted to flee. The only

reasonable hypothesis flowing from this evidence, viewed in the
light most favorable to the

Commonwealth, is that appellant exercised first actual and then
constructive possession of both

the drugs and the firearm and that he was attempting, based on
Clarke’s warning, to dispose of

the items so that they would not be found by the police.

Appellant argues that Clarke could have thrown either or both of
the items out the

window and, thus, that the evidence is insufficient to prove
appellant possessed them actually or

constructively. However, the evidence indicates that Officer
Rhodenizer quickly followed

Clarke up the stairs and into the bedroom, eliminating the
possibility that Clarke, who was

standing on the opposite side of the room from the window when
Rhodenizer entered, could

independently have discarded the firearm through the open window
before appellant discarded

the drugs. That Clarke may also have had actual or constructive
possession of the drugs and

firearm before appellant attempted to dispose of them through
the open window does not

diminish appellant’s guilt for the charged offense.

For these reasons, we hold the evidence was sufficient to
support appellant’s conviction

for violating Code ? 18.2-308.4, and we affirm.

Affirmed.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1]Pursuant to
Code ? 17.1-413, this opinion is not designated for publication.

 

[2]Appellant was
convicted in the same proceeding for possessing heroin and possessing

cocaine. He does not challenge those convictions on appeal.


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