People v. Griffin

Decision Date06 April 1999
Docket NumberDocket No. 205378.
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Darryl Kenneth GRIFFIN, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, Michael D. Thomas, Prosecuting Attorney, and Katherine Langevin Semel, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the people.

State Appellate Defender (by Chari K. Grove), for the defendant on appeal.

Before: FITZGERALD, P.J., and HOLBROOK, JR., and O'CONNELL, JJ.

O'CONNELL, J.

Defendant appeals as of right from his convictions of three counts of delivery of less than fifty grams of cocaine, M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(iv); M.S.A. § 14.15(7401)(2)(a)(iv), and single counts of possession with intent to deliver less than fifty grams of cocaine, M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(iv); M.S.A. § 14.15(7401)(2)(a)(iv), conspiracy to deliver cocaine, M.C.L. § 750.157a; M.S.A. § 28.354(1), and maintaining a drug house, M.C.L. § 333.7405(d); M.S.A. § 14.15(7405)(d). We affirm.

I. Facts and Procedural History

After a lengthy period of investigation and surveillance, the police conducted a search and seizure at 732 Bethany in Saginaw on the morning of August 22, 1996. Defendant was in the house at the time, having slept there the night before. On a dresser in the bedroom where defendant said that he had spent that night, the police found a quantity of cocaine in plain view alongside some personal items of defendant. According to expert testimony at trial, the amounts of cocaine and particular drug paraphernalia that the police found at the house indicated that the premises were used as a locus for drug trafficking. During the course of the investigation, an informant, operating under police supervision, purchased cocaine from defendant on April 18 and 29, and August 26, 1996, and on June 11 that year viewed defendant with some cocaine that defendant was offering for sale, each of these events occurring at the house at 732 Bethany.

This house was the residence of Tonja Simpson (Simpson), her and defendant's minor son, and Simpson's father, who was renting the house from his ex-wife. Simpson was arrested and charged along with defendant. Her case was eventually severed from defendant's, and she testified at defendant's trial pursuant to a plea agreement.

The jury found defendant guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced defendant to one to two years' imprisonment for maintaining a drug house, that sentence to run concurrently with sentences of three to forty years' imprisonment for each of the remaining five convictions, the latter all to run consecutively to each other and to a sentence for an earlier conviction.

II. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendant argues that the prosecution failed to present evidence sufficient to support his convictions of maintaining a drug house and possessing cocaine with intent to deliver it. We disagree. When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence in a criminal case, this Court must view the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether a rational trier of fact could find that each element of the crime was proved beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Jaffray, 445 Mich. 287, 296, 519 N.W.2d 108 (1994); People v. Fetterley, 229 Mich.App. 511, 515, 583 N.W.2d 199 (1998).

A. Keeping or Maintaining a Drug House

Defendant's argument concerning the conviction of maintaining a drug house hinges on the proper interpretation of the applicable statute. At the time of defendant's arrest and conviction, M.C.L. § 333.7405(d); M.S.A. § 14.15(7405)(d) stated that a person "[s]hall not knowingly keep or maintain a ... dwelling ... or other structure or place, which is resorted to by persons using controlled substances in violation of this article for the purpose of using these substances, or which is used for keeping or selling them in violation of this article." Defendant does not argue that the house in question, at 732 Bethany in Saginaw, was not itself a drug house under M.C.L. § 333.7405(d); M.S.A. § 14.15(7405)(d), but argues instead that he did not "keep or maintain" the property for purposes of the statute.1 Statutory interpretation is a question of law calling for review de novo. Michigan Basic Property Ins. Ass'n v. Ware, 230 Mich.App. 44, 48, 583 N.W.2d 240 (1998). "The primary purpose of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature." Id. at 49, 583 N.W.2d 240. "[T]he meaning of the Legislature is to be found in the terms and arrangement of the statute without straining or refinement, and the expressions used are to be taken in their natural and ordinary sense." Gross v. General Motors Corp., 448 Mich. 147, 160, 528 N.W.2d 707 (1995). A court should interpret a statute in the way that best advances its legislative purpose. People v. Adair, 452 Mich. 473, 479-480, 550 N.W.2d 505 (1996).

We hold that to "keep or maintain" a drug house it is not necessary to own or reside at one, but simply to exercise authority or control over the property for purposes of making it available for keeping or selling proscribed drugs, and to do so continuously for an appreciable period. This reading of the statute comports with other jurisdictions' construction of the terms "keep or maintain" as used in similar statutes.2

Defendant testified that he had lived with Simpson on and off, but that the night before the search was the first one that he had spent at the house since the previous January, when the couple had had a falling out. Defendant maintained that he resided at his mother's residence at the time of his arrest. Simpson testified that defendant had lived with her at the house, but that defendant moved out in May 1996. Simpson added that she and defendant were in the process of resuming their romance at the time of their arrest. According to both defendant and Simpson, defendant had no key to the house and was only an occasional visitor at the time of the police action.

This evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution indicates that defendant resided primarily at 732 Bethany as late as three months before his arrest, which period encompassed at least his first two sales of cocaine to the informant, that defendant continued to operate as a drug dealer from that house in June and August before his arrest, and that defendant spent the night before his arrest at the house and was reconciling with Simpson. The prosecutor further presented evidence that the police found men's clothing in a dresser in one of the bedrooms. Additionally, a police detective testified that during the period of surveillance he observed defendant apparently more than once drive Simpson's car from work to 732 Bethany, but that he never saw defendant drive to his mother's address.

This evidence would support a factual finding that defendant actually resided at 732 Bethany for the whole time in question, and certainly supports the finding that defendant exercised control over the premises for the purpose of trafficking in cocaine during those several months. Accordingly, defendant's argument that the prosecution failed to present evidence that he kept or maintained a drug house sufficient to support his conviction under M.C.L. § 333.7405(d); M.S.A. § 14.15(7405)(d) must fail.

B. Possession with Intent to Deliver

Also without merit is defendant's argument that the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence that he was in possession of the cocaine found at 732 Bethany to support his conviction. The elements that the prosecutor must prove to establish possession with intent to deliver less than fifty grams of cocaine include "that defendant knowingly possessed the cocaine with the intent to deliver." People v. Wolfe, 440 Mich. 508, 517, 489 N.W.2d 748 (1992), amended 441 Mich. 1201 (1992). Possession may be actual or constructive. "The essential question is whether the defendant had dominion or control over the controlled substance." People v. Konrad, 449 Mich. 263, 271, 536 N.W.2d 517 (1995). One need not have actually owned the prohibited substance to have possessed it, and one may possess the substance jointly with one or more others. Wolfe, supra at 520, 489 N.W.2d 748. However, "a person's presence, by itself, at a location where drugs are found is insufficient to prove constructive possession." Id. "`"[M]ere proximity to the drug, mere presence on the property where it is located, or mere association, without more, with the person who does control the drug or the property on which it is found, is insufficient to support a finding of possession."'" United States v. Disla, 805 F.2d 1340, 1351 (C.A.9, 1986), quoting Murray v. United States, 403 F.2d 694, 696 (C.A.9, 1968), quoting Arellanes v. United States, 302 F.2d 603, 606 (C.A.9, 1962).

Although none of the cocaine that the police seized on August 22, 1996, was found on defendant, "constructive possession exists when the totality of the circumstances indicates a sufficient nexus between the defendant and the contraband." Wolfe, supra at 521, 489 N.W.2d 748. Several factors linked defendant to the cocaine found at 732 Bethany. The evidence indicated that defendant had substantial control over the premises for purposes of drug dealing, having four times offered cocaine for sale from that house, and having been found at the house with cocaine in plain view and in proximity of some of defendant's possessions when the police conducted their search. Further, Simpson testified that the cocaine found on top of the dresser, in the room where defendant said that he had spent the night before the search and seizure, was defendant's. This evidence amply supports the jury's finding that the element of possession was met.

III. Evidence of Defendant's Prior Incarceration

The informant who assisted with the...

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