Hargrove v. State

Decision Date08 September 2021
Docket NumberA21A0810
Citation361 Ga.App. 106,863 S.E.2d 364
Parties HARGROVE v. The STATE.
CourtGeorgia Court of Appeals

Brian Steel, Atlanta, for Appellant.

Gregory Lee Epstein, Flynn Duncan Broady Jr., John Stuart Melvin, Decatur, Samuel Richard d'Entremont, for Appellee.

Brown, Judge.

A jury found Peter Hargrove guilty of trafficking in heroin and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Hargrove appeals his convictions and the denial of his amended motion for new trial, contending that (1) insufficient evidence supports his convictions; (2) the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his prior convictions under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b) ; and (3) he received ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm.

"On appeal from a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, with the defendant no longer enjoying a presumption of innocence." Reese v. State , 270 Ga. App. 522, 523, 607 S.E.2d 165 (2004). "We neither weigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses, but determine only whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Kimble v. State , 356 Ga. App. 507, 847 S.E.2d 865 (2020).

So viewed, the evidence presented at trial showed that agents with the Marietta Cobb Smyrna narcotics unit received information that narcotics were being sold in the Five Points area of Smyrna, which eventually led them to a townhome at 4110 Hawthorne Circle.

Narcotics agents were surveilling the townhome on the evening of October 28, 2014, and observed multiple vehicles arrive and park in the townhome's driveway or on the street. The person would then exit the vehicle and knock on the townhome's door and have a brief interaction at the door before leaving, or Hargrove would be waiting outside the townhome and meet with the person at their car for a few seconds. The "short stays" led agents to believe that Hargrove was selling drugs out of the townhome. Agents stopped one of the vehicles as it left the townhome and that person agreed to become an informant. The agents returned the following night and watched the informant obtain heroin from Hargrove in a control buy. Seven days later, agents again set up surveillance of the townhome and observed the same informant make a control buy of heroin from Hargrove outside the home. During a third control buy on November 20, one of the agents rode in the car with the informant, posing as the informant's friend. The informant exited the car, met Hargrove in the front yard of the townhome, then returned to the car and handed the agent the heroin he had bought. The agents continued to surveil Hargrove and the townhome and observed what appeared to be several more narcotics transactions.

Based on the foregoing information, agents obtained a search warrant for the townhome. The agents watched Hargrove leave the townhome before entering and searching on December 5. The townhome was separated into two floors: the front door opened into the downstairs where the living area, kitchen, laundry room, and a small bathroom were located while upstairs were bedrooms and another bathroom. In the downstairs bathroom off the kitchen and laundry room — and with a window facing the home's front yard — the agents discovered a bag containing 14.49 grams of heroin, a bag containing 26.63 grams of cocaine, a digital scale, and unused syringes. All of the items were found lying out on the bathroom counter. Agents found plastic baggies and more syringes in the bathroom drawer. Another bag of heroin was found in a bowl in the attached laundry room. Upstairs, agents found what they believed to be nine baggies of cocaine, a bag of heroin, and several bags of marijuana in a dresser drawer in the master bedroom. Two cell phones and a scale were also taken from the bedroom. Two other digital scales were found in a second bedroom upstairs. Inside a coat in the closet of the second bedroom, agents found what they believed to be a bag of cocaine, a cell phone, and $1,984 in cash. Two females were present in the townhome when the search warrant was executed: Anita Patterson and her daughter, Brittany Patterson, who both lived in the home. The agent who found the items in the master bedroom testified that he believed the master bedroom was Brittany Patterson's room.

Hargrove was pulled over leaving the neighborhood and detained. A search of his person revealed three cell phones and $3,189 in cash.

Agents obtained a warrant to search the cell phones found on Hargrove as well as the cell phones found in the townhome. A number stored in one of the cell phones found on Hargrove was listed under the name "Chucky." An agent recognized the name because other agents in the narcotics unit had been investigating a narcotics dealer called "Chucky." Agents learned that the phone number associated with one of Hargrove's cell phones was a contact of Chucky and that Hargrove had been communicating with Chucky over the phone. Recordings of calls between Hargrove and Chucky dated October 31, November 4, and November 11, 2014, were played for the jury. The agent investigating Chucky testified that based on the amount of money discussed in the calls between Hargrove and Chucky ($2,250) and his experience conducting undercover narcotics purchases from Chucky, Hargrove was purchasing around one ounce of heroin. The State presented evidence of five other calls between Hargrove and Chucky made on November 25 and December 2. The agent also testified that the area that Hargrove and Chucky discussed for meeting, including a specific laundromat, was the same area in which the agent had purchased heroin from Chucky.

In a joint indictment, Hargrove and Brittany Patterson were charged with trafficking in illegal drugs (heroin) and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Patterson was also charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana. At some point before Hargrove's trial, Patterson pleaded guilty, but her conviction and plea are not part of the record. And, from what we can glean from the trial transcript, the jury did not hear evidence of Patterson's guilty plea and conviction. Following Hargrove's conviction, the trial court denied his motion for new trial, as amended, and Hargrove appeals.

1. Hargrove argues that the evidence presented by the State was insufficient to support his convictions because the cocaine and heroin were found inside the townhome of his co-indictee, Brittany Patterson, and nothing linked him to the drugs. Hargrove concedes that the evidence proves that he was involved in illegal drug transactions, but argues that the evidence failed to prove he possessed the heroin and cocaine seized from the townhome.1 We disagree.

In order to prove the drug charges brought against Hargrove, the State was required to prove that he possessed the heroin and cocaine. See OCGA §§ 16-13-30 (b) and 16-13-31 (b).

[P]ossession of contraband may be joint or exclusive, and actual or constructive. Actual possession means knowing, direct physical control over something at a given time. For constructive possession, the standard is also well-understood: if a person has both the "power and the intention at a given time to exercise dominion or control" over a thing, then the person is in constructive possession of that thing. Mere proximity to contraband, absent other evidence connecting a suspect with that contraband, is not enough to establish constructive possession. If one person alone has actual or constructive possession of a thing, then the person is in sole possession of it. If two or more people share actual or constructive possession of a thing, then their possession is joint.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Lebis v. State , 302 Ga. 750, 753-754 (II), 808 S.E.2d 724 (2017). As the State presented no evidence showing that Hargrove actually possessed the drugs found in the townhome, we must determine whether it presented sufficient evidence of constructive possession. See Hill v. State , 360 Ga. App. 143, 860 S.E.2d 893 (2021). See also Blue v. State , 350 Ga. App. 702, 705 (1) (a), 830 S.E.2d 279 (2019).

Constructive possession can be proven — and very often is proven — by circumstantial evidence. Of course, as with any charge based on purely circumstantial evidence, in order to support a conviction the evidence must exclude every reasonable hypothesis, save that of constructive possession by the defendant. As we have noted, proximity to contraband is plainly not enough. But as this Court has also held, consistent with OCGA § 24-14-6,[2 ] questions as to the reasonableness of hypotheses are generally to be decided by the jury which heard the evidence and that finding will not be disturbed unless the verdict of guilty is unsupportable as a matter of law. In other words, whether the evidence shows something more than mere presence or proximity, and whether it excludes every other reasonable hypothesis, are questions committed principally to the trier of fact, and we should not disturb the decisions of the trier of fact about these things unless they cannot be supported as a matter of law.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Hill , 360 Ga. App. at 149, 860 S.E.2d 893. For constructive possession,

[t]he intent to exercise control over the drugs ... may be derived from the surrounding circumstances such as a defendant's attempts to flee or elude police; inconsistent explanations by the defendant for [his] behavior; the presence of significant amounts of contraband and drug paraphernalia in plain view; the defendant's possession of large amounts of cash, other indicia of the sale of drugs, or drug-related paraphernalia; evidence that the defendant was under the influence of drugs; or drug residue found on the defendant.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id.

Here, there was no evidence that...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2 cases
  • Wright v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • March 2, 2022
    ... ... (C) Finally, while the three decisions on which the dissent primarily relies arguably may appear to support the trial court's 362 Ga.App. 887 ruling here at first glance, each case differs significantly from the present scenario on closer inspection. See Hargrove v. State , 361 Ga. App. 106, 863 S.E.2d 364 (2021) ; Moton v. State , 351 Ga. App. 789, 833 S.E.2d 171 (2019) ; Gunn v. State , 342 Ga. App. 615, 804 S.E.2d 118 (2017). Importantly, in none of these decisions did this Court engage in the relevant analysis with respect to prosecutorial need of ... ...
  • Cortes v. Georgia Power Company
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • September 8, 2021
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT