People v. Valot

Citation189 N.W.2d 873,33 Mich.App. 49
Decision Date26 April 1971
Docket NumberNo. 1,Docket No. 8038,1
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Harold Eugene VALOT, Jr., Defendant-Appellant
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)

Robert E. Childs, Detroit, for defendant-appellant.

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Robert A. Derengoski, Sol. Gen., William L. Cahalan, Pros. Atty., Dominick R. Carnovale, Chief, Appellate Div., Leonard Meyers, Asst. Pros. Atty., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before R. B. BURNS, P.J., and LEVIN and CHURCHILL, * JJ.

CHURCHILL, Judge.

Defendant, Harold Valot, was charged with having had possession and control of marijuana contrary to the provisions of M.C.L.A. § 335.153 (Stat.Ann.1957 Rev. § 18.1123). He was convicted by non-jury trial. The judgment of sentence refers to possession of marijuana. The trial judge's recited findings at the conclusion of the trial make it clear that the conviction was based on findings of control. Possession and control are separate offenses under the statute. People v. Harper (1962), 365 Mich. 494, 113 N.W.2d 808.

Defendant asserts on appeal that the evidence was obtained by a search and seizure in violation of his constitutional rights, 1 and further that there was no evidence of his possession or control of the drug to support the conviction.

Defendant's objection to the introduction of seized drugs at the preliminary examination was overruled. After he was bound over to circuit court for trial, his timely motion to suppress the same evidence was denied. No separate testimonial hearing was requested or held, and we surmise that the motion was based on and considered on the preliminary examination transcript.

Three Redford Township policemen went to a motel in their township in response to a call from a motel employee. Upon answering they learned from the motel manager that he was concerned about the continued use of one of the motel rooms by a number of 'hippie-type people'. The room had been rented about 3 days before. The rent was paid until noon of that day. The police were called and arrived in the early afternoon. The officers examined the registration card and learned that the motel room was registered in the name of Harold Valot. One officer recognized the name as the name of an escapee from The Detroit House of Correction. They learned that an auto, identified on the registration card, was parked in the motel parking lot. They learned that a man answering Valot's description had been seen entering the room. They were unable to learn if he had left the room. The police were informed that efforts to contact the room by motel employees by telephone were unsuccessful.

The policemen went to the room with the motel manager. The manager knocked on the door. There was no response. The manager opened the door with a key. The manager and the policemen walked in and observed five persons in the room, all apparently asleep on or in beds. One of the officers recognized the Defendant by description and the officers observed marijuana about the room. Defendant was arrested. The marijuana was seized.

(The version of the facts, thus far stated, is from the evidence received at the preliminary examination, and our decision on search and seizure issues is not based on trial evidence. People v. Jones (1968), 12 Mich.App. 369, 163 N.W.2d 22. At the trial the testimony reflected substantially the same chain of events leading up to the entry into the room by police and, in addition thereto, testimony significant to the second issue, which we summarize as follows.)

Defendant personally registered for the room on September 27, 1968, three days before the arrest, and paid one day's room rent. A girl paid rent on the day before the arrest. Defendant testified that he rented the room for two other persons, and that he had been sleeping there since about 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. on the day of the arrest. He said that he knew that Paul Silver carried and used marijuana and that he, Valot, previously chased Silver out, but that Silver was there when he was aroused by the police. We said that he was unaware of the presence of marijuana in the room until that time.

The room, upon police entry, was in complete disarray. There was a strong odor of marijuana in the room. There were four had rolled marijuana cigarettes and a brass water pipe of a type used for smoking marijuana on tables, including one on a table next to the bed occupied by Defendant and another. Later examination disclosed traces of marijuana on the pipe. Two marijuana cigarette butts were in the room, one of them being on the floor beside Defendant's bed. Defendant's record player was in the room.

We find no merit in the Defendant's constitutional argument. The police had good reason to anticipate finding the Defendant, an escapee, in the room. They entered to make a lawful arrest 2 and seized contraband in plain view as an incident thereto.

The legislature used the words 'possession' and 'control' in the narcotics statute in their commonly understood sense, and not in a restricted, technical sense. People v. Harper, Supra. The trial judge conceded the possibiliy that someone, unbeknownst to Defendant, brought the marijuana into the room, but nevertheless did not have a reasonable or fair doubt as to Defendant's control thereof. It was a fact question. There was strong circumstantial evidence to support the Court's findings. Defendant's control of the marijuana in the room was a fact reasonably inferred from the evidence. People v. Eaves (1966), 4 Mich.App. 457, 145 N.W.2d 260.

Upon timely motion of either party, or on its own initiative, the trial Court may correct the judgment to disclose that Defendant was convicted of control rather than possession of marijuana. GCR 1963, 528.1. His conviction is affirmed.

LEVIN, Judge (dissenting).

I dissent because it is not a crime to be in control of a room where marijuana is found and because the people failed to prove that the defendant, Harold Eugene Valot, Jr., was in possession or control of marijuana.

Time and again the courts of this and other States have ruled that where the people's case is based on circumstantial evidence the prosecution has the burden of proving 'that there is no innocent theory possible which will, without violation of reason, accord with the facts.' People v. Millard (1884), 53 Mich. 6o, 70, 18 N.W. 562, 564; People v. Spann (1966), 3 Mich.App. 444, 454, 142 N.W.2d 887; People v. Morrow (1970), 21 Mich.App. 603, 606, 175 N.W.2d 523. 1 In this case the people failed to negate every reasonable theory consistent with Valot's innocence of the crime charged.

When the police entered the motel room they observed five persons all apparently asleep. 2 There were four marijuana cigarettes on a desk. There was also a water pipe, with marijuana residue in the pipe near where Valot and his girl friend were sleeping. Next to the water pipe was a marijuana cigarette butt. On another bed a man was sleeping and near him on the floor was another marijuana cigarette butt. Sprawled on the floor somewhere was another man and another woman. Valot had paid the rent for the room for one day. His girl friend paid the rent for the second day; he offered to reimburse her but she refused. The rent for the third day had not been paid.

The trial judge found that Valot was in control of the room and was aware at least of the fact that others in the room had marijuana. Those inferences and findings are reasonably supported by the evidence. From the fact that Valot had paid the rent for the first day, had offered to pay for the second day and, by his own testimony, had kicked someone out of the room, it is reasonable to conclude that he was in control of the room. In the light of the manager's testimony that shortly before his arrest Valot was awake, 3 it is reasonable to conclude that he was aware that marijuana was being used or, at least, that it had been used in the room.

One or more of the persons in the room possessed or controlled the marijuana that was in it. There was, however, no evidence as to who brought the marijuana into the room or who used it. The people did not prove by direct or circumstantial evidence that Valot, rather than another person or persons in the room, was himself in actual possession of the marijuana found in the room. There was no evidence direct or circumstantial, that Valot ever used marijuana or did so on this occasion. The trier of fact's disbelief of Valot's testimony does not support a conclusion that the opposite of his testimony is true in the absence of independent evidence affirmatively supporting that conclusion. 4

If Valot did not bring the marijuana into the room or smoke it--and, again, there was no evidence that he had--then someone else did. It is not reasonable to infer from Valot's Control of the room and his knowledge that others in the room possessed or were using marijuana, and I quote from the majority opinion, that Valot, rather than one or another of the other persons in the room, was in 'control of the marijuana in the room.' 5

In People v. Burrel (1931), 253 Mich. 321, 235 N.W. 170, the Supreme Court of Michigan held that the owner-driver of an automobile could not be convicted of statutory rape on evidence that he chauffered his automobile while one of his boy friends had sexual intercourse with an under-age girl. Since the people had not shown that Burrel had knowledge that the offense was to be committed he could not be convicted as an accessory merely because he was aware of what was happening when the offense was being committed. Just as Burrel, although the owner of the automobile, and aware of what his boy friend was doing, was not under an obligation to control him, so Valot, although in control of the motel room and, no doubt, aware that marijuana was or had been used, was not under an obligation to control the users.

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7 cases
  • U.S. v. Davis
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • April 6, 1977
    ...to the "negate all other reasonable inferences" formulation. See id., at 764 n.31, quoting from the dissent in People v. Valot, 33 Mich.App. 49, 189 N.W.2d 873 (1971). 6 See Whitebread & Stevens, supra note 5, 58 Va.L.Rev. at 763-64. See also 9 Wigmore, Evidence, § 2515 (3d ed. 1940). Of co......
  • People v. Wolfe
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    • August 31, 1992
    ...that he wiped the weapon clean of fingerprints and tried to get rid of it, was sufficient to sustain a conviction); People v. Valot, 33 Mich.App. 49, 189 N.W.2d 873 (1971) (the Court affirmed a conviction for possession where the defendant was found in a room with a strong marijuana odor, h......
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    ...117 (Fla.App.1967); Landers v. State, 114 Ga.App. 687, 152 S.E.2d 431; People v. Pugh, 36 Ill.2d 435, 223 N.E.2d 115; People v. Valot, 33 Mich.App. 49, 189 N.W.2d 873; State v. Kistler, 13 N.C.App. 431, 185 S.E.2d 596; Commonwealth v. Schuloff, 218 Pa.Super. 209, 275 A.2d 835; Kelly v. Stat......
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