Mr. Priest’s conviction for aggravated possession of drugs was supported by sufficient evidence and was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.

 

State v. Priest

2023 – Ohio – 2512

Fifth District Appellate Court

Coshocton County, Ohio

July 21, 2023

 

Ex-Boyfriend Andrew Needed a Place to Crash

On or about March 2, 2022, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant upon Mr. Andrew Priest at a trailer located at 420 North Oak Street in West Lafayette, Ohio, at which Mr. Priest, who also had an active arrest warrant, had been staying off and on for the preceding month. The trailer was owned by Mr. Priest’s ex-girlfriend, Ms. Hayley Mardis, who had purchased a new home and was no longer staying at the trailer. Both Ms. Mardis and Mr. Priest consented to a search of the trailer.

Mr. Priest was living in a trailer at 420 North Oak Street in West Lafayette, Ohio.  He would admit to owning several items on top of the stop with the exception of the methamphetamine.  Would law enforcement, the prosecutor, the trial judge or the appellate court believe him?

Did the Trailer Stove Serve as a Nightstand?

The trailer had a kitchen and a living room which were separated by a couch. Mr. Priest’s jacket was found on the couch, and Mr. Priest admitted that he had slept on the couch the night before. The stove was located a couple of steps from the couch. An unlocked lock box was found on the stove in which Methamphetamine was found. Other items belonging to Mr. Priest were also found on the stove, including a piece of paper upon which the email address Priest85@yahoo.com was written, a 2021 W-2 belonging Mr. Priest which had been issued in January of 2022, and paperwork from Coshocton County Job and Family Services for Mr. Priest and another woman. Also found inside the unlocked lockbox were syringes, a couple of scales, male jewelry, a tongue ring, a broken smoking device used to ingest or smoke methamphetamine, a necklace, and a ring.

Indicted for Possession of Drugs

On March 21, 2022, Mr. Priest was indicted on one count of aggravated possession of drugs in violation of O.R.C. §2925.11(A) and O.R.C. §2925.11(C)(1)(b), a felony of the third degree. The matter proceeded to jury trial on November 8, 2022. The following testimony and evidence was adduced at trial.

Mr. Priest Claims EVERYTHING on the Stove was His Own … Except the Meth

Detective Matt Woitel of the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Office, Narcotics Unit, testified that he executed the search warrant upon Mr. Priest at the trailer, and obtained both his consent and that of Ms. Mardis to conduct a search of the trailer. He testified that he found methamphetamine in the unlocked lockbox on the stove, surrounded by items belonging to Mr. Priest. Detective Woitel identified photographs of the trailer, including photos of the inside of the trailer depicting the proximity of the couch were Mr. Priest’s clothing was found to the stove on which the unlocked lockbox and other of Mr. Priest’s items were located. Mr. Priest argued that the methamphetamine was not his, but rather, belonged to someone else. Officer Woitel testified that he did not find methamphetamine in any other room of the trailer; it was found only a couple of steps from where Mr. Priest had slept the night before, surrounded by other items belonging to him.

Ms. Mardis Confirms Mr. Priest had Previously Worn a Tongue Ring

 Ms. Hayley Mardis testified that she was Mr. Priest’s ex-girlfriend, and they had two children together. Ms. Mardis testified that while she owned the trailer in question, she no longer lived there, having moved into a new home a couple of months earlier. She testified that Mr. Priest had a key to the trailer, and that she permitted him to stay there periodically. She testified that during their relationship she knew him to wear a tongue ring. She further testified that she visited the trailer after Mr. Priest’s arrest, and noted his clothing in the living room and kitchen areas. Finally, she testified that she did not have any methamphetamine in the trailer.

Sergeant Dave Stone of the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Office, Narcotics Unit, testified that he is a canine officer, and that he and his canine partner assisted in the search of the trailer on March 2, 2022, where methamphetamine was found. He identified his body-cam footage of the canine search, which was played for the jury.

Methamphetamine is Forensically Confirmed

Mr. Mark Hiatt of the Central Ohio Regional Crime Lab testified regarding his forensic analysis of the drugs taken from the search of the trailer, identifying them as methamphetamine.

Mr. Priest rested and Exhibits 1 through 20 were admitted into evidence. The Mr. Priest moved for acquittal pursuant to Crim. R. 29, which was denied, and the parties presented closing arguments.

What is Knowingly Possess?

The trial court thereafter instructed the jury, which included the following instruction on “knowingly possess”:

What is “knowingly”? A person acts knowingly, regardless of his purpose, when the person is aware that the person’s conduct will probably cause a certain result or be of a certain nature. A person has knowledge of circumstances when the person is aware that such circumstances probably exist. Because you cannot look in the mind of another, knowledge is determined from all the facts and circumstances in evidence. You will determine from these facts and circumstances whether there existed at the time in the mind of the defendant an awareness that he was in possession of methamphetamine.

What does “possess” mean?

What does “possess” mean? “Possess” means having control over a thing or substance, but may not be inferred solely from mere access to the thing or substance through ownership or occupation of the premises upon which the thing or substance is found. Therefore, the mere presence of a person at a residence where methamphetamine is discovered is not enough to support the element of possession. If the evidence demonstrates that the defendant was able to exercise dominion or control over the illegal substance, the defendant can be convicted of possession.

Guilty

The jury deliberated for approximately one hour and returned with a guilty verdict.

Appeal

The Mr. Priest filed a timely appeal in which he sets forth the following sole assignment of error:

Was Enough Evidence Admitted to Convict Mr. Priest?

Mr. Priest argues that his conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence, and that it was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree.

Mr. Priest argues that his conviction on the charge of aggravated possession of drugs was not based upon sufficient evidence, and was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree.

Aggravated possession of drugs is defined by O.R.C. §2925.11, which states in pertinent part:

(A) No person shall knowingly obtain, possess, or use a controlled substance or a controlled substance analog.

(C) Whoever violates division (A) of this section is guilty of one of

the following:
(1) If the drug involved in the violation is a compound, mixture,

preparation, or substance included in schedule I or II, with the exception of marihuana, cocaine, L.S.D., heroin, any fentanyl-related compound, hashish, and any controlled substance analog, whoever violates division (A)

of this section is guilty of aggravated possession of drugs. The penalty for the offense shall be determined as follows:

(b) If the amount of the drug involved equals or exceeds the bulk

amount but is less than five times the bulk amount, aggravated possession
of drugs is a felony of the third degree, and there is a presumption for a
prison term for the offense.

Mr. Priest had Unrestricted Access to the Trailer

The jury heard testimony from several law enforcement officers involved in the search and arrest of Mr. Priest, as well as the forensic analyst regarding the methamphetamine. The jury was presented with photographic, video, and audio evidence in support of the allegations against Mr. Priest. In addition, the jury heard testimony from Ms. Hayley Mardis, the owner of the trailer at which Mr. Priest had been staying at the time of his arrest, which established that he had a key to the trailer and thus had unrestricted access to the trailer. Further, Ms. Mardis testified that she no longer lived in the trailer, and that she did not have any methamphetamine in the trailer.

The jury weighed the evidence, heard the testimony of the witnesses, and was in the best position to ascertain the veracity of the witnesses and credibility of the evidence.

Evidence was Legally Sufficient

We find, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, that any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime of aggravated possession of drugs beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, the evidence adduced at trial is legally sufficient to support the jury’s verdict as a matter of law, and the jury’s finding that Mr. Priest was guilty of aggravated possession of drugs is therefore supported by sufficient evidence.

Jury’s Guilty Verdict is Upheld

Furthermore, after are view of the entire record made with every reasonable intendment and every reasonable presumption in favor of the judgment, we cannot say that the jury clearly lost its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered. As such, we find that the jury’s verdict is not against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Mr. Priest’s conviction for aggravated possession of drugs was supported by sufficient evidence and was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Mr. Priest’s sole assignment of error is overruled, and the judgment of the Coshocton County Court of Common Pleas is affirmed.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Priest, 2023 – Ohio – 2512.

State v. Priest, 2023 – Ohio – 2512 was issued by the Fifth District Appellate Court on July 21, 2023 and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Circumstantial Evidence Doctrine – The jury deliberated and determined that Mr. Priest ‘knowingly possessed’ the methamphetamine nestled on top of the stove next to a moderate number of items that were proven to be his own. Though not mentioned in the case, this is a classic example of the Circumstantial Evidence Doctrine.  Circumstantial Evidence is “The proof of certain facts and circumstances in a given case, from which jury may infer other connected facts which usually and reasonably follow according to the common experience of mankind.” Blacks Law Dictionary 243, (6th 1990) In this case Mr. Priest had unfettered access to the trailer of the other natural parent of his children and where no one else was currently residing.  Mr. Priest had the following items placed on top of the stove: a piece of paper upon which the email address Priest85@yahoo.com was written, a 2021 W-2 belonging the Mr. Priest which had been issued in January of 2022, and paperwork from Coshocton County Job and Family Services for the Mr. Priest and another woman. Also found inside the unlocked lockbox were syringes, a couple of scales, male jewelry, a tongue ring, a broken smoking device used to ingest or smoke methamphetamine, a necklace, and a ring. The unlocked lockbox also contained methamphetamine.  Based on these items placed on the stove that were Mr. Priest’s then it is only logical to determine that the methamphetamine was his too based on the Circumstantial Evidence Doctrine.
  2. Tongue Ring – Another factor that weighed strongly against Mr. Priest was the tongue ring. The mother of Mr. Priest’s children, Ms. Hayley Mardis testified that Mr. Priest did have a tongue ring.  This is an unusual piece of jewelry and since it was nestled next to the methamphetamine it was a significant piece of circumstantial evidence.
  3. Pre-Sent Arms! Detective Matt Woitel of the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Office, Narcotics Unit should be highly commended for his investigation and testimony to uphold the convictions of Mr. Priest. Well done Detective Woitel!

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Robert H. Meader Esq.