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PARK v. COMMONWEALTH




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the Virginia Court of Appeals.


PARK

v.

COMMONWEALTH


COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Present: Chief Judge Fitzpatrick, Judges Benton and Clements

Argued at Alexandria, Virginia

Record No. 2578-02-4

JESSE LIGHTNER PARK

v.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

 

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]
BY CHIEF JUDGE JOHANNA L. FITZPATRICK

DECEMBER 2, 2003

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF STAFFORD COUNTY

James W. Haley, Jr., Judge

Marvin D. Miller (Terri J. Harris; Law Offices of Marvin D.

Miller, on briefs), for appellant.

Kathleen B. Martin, Assistant Attorney General (Jerry W.
Kilgore,

Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Jesse Lightner Park (appellant) appeals his conviction for
possession with intent to distribute

marijuana in violation of Code ? 18.2-248.1. Appellant contends
that the circumstantial evidence

used to convict him did not exclude every reasonable hypothesis
of innocence. He further

contends that the trial court imposed an invalid sentence by
sentencing him to an indefinite

period of probation. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

On appeal the evidence and all reasonable inferences flowing
therefrom must be viewed

in the light most favorable to the prevailing party below, the
Commonwealth. Derr v.

Commonwealth, 242 Va. 413, 424, 410 S.E.2d 662, 668 (1991);
Archer v. Commonwealth, 26

Va. App. 1, 11, 492 S.E.2d 826, 831 (1997).

At trial, appellant conceded that

he was in possession of the marijuana and was in possession of

approximately three thousand dollars and we are not contesting
the

stop . . . . What we are asking your Honor to do is to make one
of

three decisions . . . either he was in possession with intent to

distribute less than one to ten, as charged in the indictment,
or he

was in simple possession, or he was in possession with intent to

distribute as an accommodation.

The amount of marijuana seized was 11.58 ounces. Appellant also
stipulated to the

admissibility of a cell phone, the lab report, an "owe
sheet," currency, and baggies.

Additionally, Sheriff McDowell (McDowell) found $1,102 in
appellant’s wallet which was in the

passenger seat of the vehicle, and $2,204 in his front left
pocket.

Appellant stipulated that Detective Eric Jesse (Jesse) would
testify that possession of one

ounce or less of marijuana suggests personal use and that
possession of a pound is inconsistent

with personal use. However, "he has on occasion seen
marijuana in that amount" for personal

use. Appellant also stipulated that Jesse would testify that the
value of the 11.58 ounces of

marijuana that appellant possessed had a value of between $1,200
and $4,000, depending on the

market. The marijuana, money, cell phone, baggies, and papers
were admitted into evidence, but

the Commonwealth presented no additional testimony connecting
these items to the process of

distribution.

Appellant called one witness, William Spinks (Spinks), who
testified that he had known

appellant for about 15 years and that he used to smoke
marijuana, but had quit since his daughter

was born. Spinks further testified that when he did smoke
marijuana, he smoked an ounce in

about four days, and purchased both pounds and ounces for
personal use. Spinks testified that he

purchased a Yamaha four-wheeler from appellant on September 17,
2001, the same day

appellant was arrested, and paid him $3,000 in cash. On
cross-examination, Spinks testified that

he did not remember the denominations of bills he gave appellant
when purchasing the

four-wheeler. He also testified that he did not notice what
appellant did with the money after

Spinks gave it to him. Spinks had no bill of sale for the
four-wheeler.

Appellant argued at trial that the evidence was insufficient to
convict him of possession

with intent to distribute the marijuana because the Commonwealth
failed to connect the

stipulated evidence to the intent to distribute and that
quantity alone was insufficient to establish

intent to distribute.

The trial court found appellant guilty of possession with intent
to distribute, and noted

that the evidence established that appellant had over $3,000 in
cash separated from his pocket

and wallet, and the amount of marijuana found was 11.58 ounces.
The trial court also found that

Spinks’ testimony regarding the four-wheeler sale was not
credible. The trial court found

appellant guilty and sentenced him to ten years in prison, and
suspended seven years of the

sentence conditioned upon good behavior for twenty years. The
court sentenced appellant to

supervised probation "for an indefinite period, or unless
sooner released by the court or by the

probation officer."

II. SUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE

"When the sufficiency of the evidence is challenged on
appeal, we determine whether the

evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing
party, the Commonwealth, and the

reasonable inferences fairly deducible from that evidence
support each and every element of the

charged offense." Haskins v. Commonwealth, 31 Va. App. 145,
149-50, 521 S.E.2d 777, 779

(1999). "In so doing, we must discard the evidence of the
accused in conflict with that of the

Commonwealth, and regard as true all the credible evidence
favorable to the Commonwealth and

all fair inferences that may be drawn therefrom." Watkins
v. Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 335,

348, 494 S.E.2d 859, 866 (1998).

Circumstantial evidence may establish the elements of a crime,
provided it excludes

every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. See, e.g., Tucker v.
Commonwealth, 18 Va. App.

141, 143, 442 S.E.2d 419, 420 (1994). "The statement that
circumstantial evidence must exclude

every reasonable theory of innocence is simply another way of
stating that the Commonwealth

has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
Commonwealth v. Hudson, 265 Va. 505,

513, 578 S.E.2d 781, 785 (2003). This Court must determine
"not whether ‘there is some

evidence to support’" appellant’s hypothesis of
innocence, but, rather, "whether a reasonable

[fact finder], upon consideration of all the evidence, could
have rejected [appellant’s] theories

. . . and found him guilty . . . beyond a reasonable
doubt." Id. Whether a hypothesis of

innocence is reasonable is a question of fact, see Cantrell v.
Commonwealth, 7 Va. App. 269,

290, 373 S.E.2d 328, 339 (1988), and a finding by the trial
court is binding on appeal unless

plainly wrong, see Glasco v. Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 763, 774,
497 S.E.2d 150, 155 (1998).

"Circumstances relevant to proof of an intent to distribute
include the quantity of drugs

and cash possessed, the method of packaging, and whether
[defendant] himself used drugs."

Jones v. Commonwealth, 23 Va. App. 93, 100, 474 S.E.2d 825, 828
(1996) (internal quotations

and citation omitted). Appellant contends that the
circumstantial evidence used to convict him

did not exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. We
disagree.

Appellant stipulated that he was in possession of nearly a pound
of marijuana and that

this amount was ordinarily inconsistent with personal use.
"Possession of a quantity greater than

that ordinarily possessed for one’s personal use may be
sufficient to establish an intent to

distribute." Gregory v. Commonwealth, 22 Va. App. 100, 110,
468 S.E.2d 117, 122 (1996).

Although Detective Jesse testified that he has, on occasion,
seen nearly a pound of marijuana

designated for personal use, this is generally not the case.
However, no paraphernalia to smoke

the marijuana was found. See Askew v. Commonwealth, 40 Va. App.
104, 108, 578 S.E.2d 58,

60 (2003) (absence of paraphernalia is "regularly
recognized" as a factor indicating intent to

distribute); Glasco, 26 Va. App. at 775, 497 S.E.2d at 156.

Additionally, appellant had over $3,000 in cash divided between
$1,102 found in his

wallet on the passenger seat of the vehicle, and $2,204 found in
his front left pocket. See id.

(possession of a large sum of money ($650) "regularly
recognized as [a factor] indicating an

intent to distribute"); Christian v. Commonwealth, 33 Va.
App. 704, 716, 536 S.E.2d 477, 483

(2000) ($935). The only evidence appellant offered to explain
the presence of such a large

amount of cash was the testimony of William Spinks, who claimed
that he had given appellant

over $3,000 to purchase a "four-wheeler." The trial
court found Spinks’ testimony not to be

credible. See id. Thus, the trial court reasonably inferred that
the presence of $3,000 in cash

supported its finding that appellant intended to distribute the
marijuana in his possession. Even

assuming the Commonwealth failed to present evidence that the
stipulated "owe sheet" was a

drug "owe sheet," a reasonable fact finder upon
consideration of all the evidence could find him

guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Appellant also contends that he was sentenced to an improper
period of probation. The

Commonwealth argues that the appellant’s assignment of error
is procedurally barred because he

failed to timely object to the sentence. Because appellant did
not preserve this issue at trial, it is

procedurally barred.

"No ruling of the trial court will be considered as a basis
for reversal unless the objection

was stated together with the grounds therefor at the time of the
ruling, except for good cause

shown or to enable the Court of Appeals to attain the ends of
justice." Rule 5A:18. See Jacques

v. Commonwealth, 12 Va. App. 591, 593, 405 S.E.2d 630, 631
(1991) (citing Rule 5A:18).

Therefore, appellant’s argument on appeal is procedurally
barred by Rule 5A:18.

The ends of justice exception to Rule 5A:18 does not apply.
"The ends of justice

exception is narrow and is to be used sparingly." Brown v.
Commonwealth, 8 Va. App. 126,

132, 380 S.E.2d 8, 10 (1989). In order to avail oneself of the
exception, a defendant must

affirmatively show that a miscarriage of justice has occurred,
not that a miscarriage might have

occurred. Mounce v. Commonwealth, 4 Va. App. 433, 436, 357
S.E.2d 742, 744 (1987). The

trial error must be "clear, substantial and material."
Brown, 8 Va. App. at 132, 380 S.E.2d at 11;

Redman v. Commonwealth, 25 Va. App. 215, 221, 487 S.E.2d 269,
272 (1997).

No miscarriage of justice has occurred in this case. The trial
court’s sentencing order

specifically limits the period of supervised probation to twenty
years or less, in accordance with

the specified length of the suspension period.

We therefore affirm the trial court.

Affirmed.

Benton, J., dissenting.

At the guilt phase of the trial, the prosecutor submitted the
Commonwealth’s case for the

judge’s decision upon only a stipulation of evidence and
tangible exhibits. Jesse Lightner Park

stipulated that he possessed 11.58 ounces of marijuana when the
officer stopped him on

September 17, 2001 in an automobile and that the marijuana had a
value between $1,200 and

$4,000. He also stipulated that the arresting officer would
testify this amount is inconsistent with

personal use but that the officer additionally would testify he
"has on occasion seen marijuana in

that amount" for personal use. Park stipulated that the
officer found somewhere in his

automobile a cellular telephone, baggies, and two pieces of
paper, which the judge described as

follows:

[The officer found] . . . two pieces of paper, one of which

deals with income and assets and expenses paid, the second of

which is a piece of paper with a number of names on it — one,
two,

three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten — ten names
with

various sums across from those names, from a larger or lesser

sum. . . .

These names, accordingly — your client’s friend, who had

known him for fifteen years, was not familiar with any of these

individuals or their names.

Park further stipulated that he had slightly in excess of $3,000
in his wallet and his

pocket. The evidence at the guilt phase of the trial did not
include any statements that Park may

have made to the arresting officer. Furthermore, the prosecutor
did not present testimony from

the arresting officer or any other witness.

Park’s witness testified that he had purchased a
"four-wheeler" Yamaha vehicle from

Park the day Park was arrested. He testified that he gave Park
$3,000 cash for the purchase of

the vehicle. Park’s witness also testified that, in the past,
he had purchased marijuana for his

own use in quantities of both "a pound or an ounce,
depending on how much [he] could afford."

Reflecting an obvious market reality and risk, he testified that
"if you buy it larger, as in the

pound, then its cheaper on you . . . and then you don’t have
to go back and buy it as many

times."

"The Commonwealth had the burden to prove beyond a
reasonable doubt that [Park]

possessed the marijuana with intent to distribute." Dukes
v. Commonwealth, 227 Va. 119, 123,

313 S.E.2d 382, 384 (1984). Thus, the principle is well
established that when "the circumstantial

evidence of such intent, when viewed in the light most favorable
to the Commonwealth, fails to

‘exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence,’"
the Commonwealth has not met its burden

of proof. Id.

The Commonwealth asserts that the officer’s stipulated
testimony establishes the amount

of marijuana was inconsistent with personal use. The record,
however, establishes that the

stipulation rendered this issue in a state of equipoise because
the stipulation also contained the

officer’s view that, in his experience, this amount of
marijuana has been possessed for personal

use. Thus, "this is a case where the prosecution has
presented . . . two different accounts of the

essential facts relating to a crucial element of the
crime." Moore v. Commonwealth, 254 Va.

184, 189, 491 S.E.2d 739, 742 (1997). The principle has long
been established that "‘where a

fact is equally susceptible of two interpretations one of which
is consistent with the innocence of

the accused, [the trier of fact] cannot arbitrarily adopt that
interpretation which incriminates

him.’" Corbett v. Commonwealth, 210 Va. 304, 307, 171
S.E.2d 251, 253 (1969) (citation

omitted). The stipulated evidence, therefore, logically
established that the amount of marijuana

was not inconsistent with possession for personal use.

The other evidence in the record is equally deficient and fails
to satisfy the

Commonwealth’s burden to establish beyond a reasonable doubt
that Park intended to distribute

the marijuana. No evidence in the record established that the
papers bore any connection to the

marijuana or to Park’s intent to use the marijuana. The trial
judge’s observation about these

exhibits, that one related to "income and assets and
expenses" and that the other contained "ten

names with various sums across from those names," is
nothing more that a vague description of

the papers and discloses no relationship between the nature of
the writings and the fact to be

proved. One exhibit, which is a paper containing ten names and
some numbers, does not

establish money was owed to anyone. Even if the figures are
assumed to represent money, the

paper does not indicate how much money was owed to whom and for
what purpose. The other

exhibit is an 8×11 pad of lined paper with notations under items
designated "car insurance,"

"grocerys," "invest/bank," "paid
Buddy," "rent," "save," "mom paid,"
"started work," and "pay

date." Absent some connective evidence, the judge merely
engaged in "speculation and

conjecture" in concluding that these papers related to an
intent to distribute the marijuana.

Wright v. Commonwealth, 217 Va. 669, 670, 232 S.E.2d 733, 734
(1977). "Suspicion, no matter

how strong, is not enough. Convictions cannot rest upon
speculation and conjecture." Littlejohn

v. Commonwealth, 24 Va. App. 401, 415, 482 S.E.2d 853, 860
(1997) (citation omitted).

Likewise, proof that Park possessed $3,000 merely raises the
opportunity to speculate

about its origin or its intended use. The Commonwealth advanced
no evidence or argument to

tie the money to the marijuana Park possessed or to prove the
requisite element of intent. The

trial judge’s rejection of Park’s witness’ testimony that,
earlier on the day of Park’s arrest, he had

purchased a vehicle from Parks for $3,000 cash, does not provide
a factual basis for establishing

that the money was someway connected to an intent to distribute
the marijuana. See Tarpley v.

Commonwealth, 261 Va. 251, 256-57, 542 S.E.2d 761, 764 (2001).
Even on appeal, the

Commonwealth merely makes the assertion that "possession of
a large amount of cash — $3306

– was a further factor establishing intent to distribute."
Only by speculation could the trier of

fact conclude the cash somehow is related to the marijuana in
Park’s possession or Park’s intent.

In a similar vein, it seems almost too simplistic to say that in
the year 2003 the possession of a

cellular telephone proves nothing more than the fact that Park
uses it, as do an increasing number

of people, as a means of communication.

Simply put, the Commonwealth relies on suspicious circumstances
and leaps of logic to

make the connections needed to establish the necessary element
of intent.

It is well settled in Virginia that to justify conviction of a

crime, it is not sufficient to create a suspicion or probability
of

guilt, but the evidence must establish the guilt of an accused

beyond a reasonable doubt. It must exclude every reasonable

hypothesis except that of guilt. The guilt of a party is not to
be

inferred because the facts are consistent with his guilt, but
they

must be inconsistent with his innocence.

Cameron v. Commonwealth, 211 Va. 108, 110-11, 175 S.E.2d 275,
276 (1970) (citations

omitted). At trial, the prosecutor presented stipulated facts of
circumstances that, while

interesting, do not tend to do more than present a hypothesis of
suspicion.

I would hold that the stipulated evidence was insufficient to
prove beyond a reasonable

doubt that Park had the intent to distribute the marijuana. The
evidence in this case is not

inconsistent with the hypothesis that Park possessed the
marijuana for his personal use.

Therefore, I would reverse the conviction for possession with
intent to distribute and remand to

the trial court.

 

FOOTNOTES:

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


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