People v. Wolfe, Docket No. 90730

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation440 Mich. 508,489 N.W.2d 748
Docket NumberDocket No. 90730,No. 8,8
Parties, 441 Mich. 1201 PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Lemiel David WOLFE, Defendant-Appellee. Calendar
Decision Date31 August 1992

Page 748

489 N.W.2d 748
440 Mich. 508, 441 Mich. 1201
PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Lemiel David WOLFE, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket No. 90730.
Calendar No. 8.
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued Jan. 8, 1992.
Decided Aug. 31, 1992.

Page 749

[441 Mich. 510] Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Gay Secor Hardy, Sol. Gen., Michael D. Thomas, Pros. Atty., Laura A. Chappelle, Sp. Pros. Atty., and J. Thomas Horiszny, Saginaw, Asst. Pros. Atty., for the People.

Marian Kromkowski and Matthew Posner, Suttons Bay, for defendant-appellee.



In this case, defendant was convicted [441 Mich. 511] by a jury on two counts: possession with intent to deliver less than 50 grams of cocaine, 1 and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. 2 Finding the evidence insufficient to support the conviction on the underlying drug charge, the Court of Appeals reversed both convictions. Upon review, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient respecting the first count but insufficient with regard to the second.


Defendant Lemiel David Wolfe and several companions were arrested on December 9, 1987, about two hours after an undercover police officer made a controlled purchase of crack cocaine at a second floor apartment on Sixth Street in the City of Saginaw.

The undercover officer approached the apartment at about 8:30 p.m. and asked for a "$10 rock" of crack cocaine. He then passed two marked $5 bills through an open window and received in exchange a small baggie containing crack cocaine. Shortly thereafter, the undercover officer obtained a warrant, and entered the apartment with several other officers to execute a search. They found six individuals in the

Page 750

apartment--four men, one woman, and a juvenile. In the group were defendant Lemiel Wolfe and Daven Rogers, as well as two other men, Anthony Winstead and Leonard Jones.

Items recovered in the search included a loaded 12-gauge shotgun and an unspecified number of packets of crack cocaine, which appeared to be packaged for individual sale. When the officers entered the back bedroom of the apartment they saw Winstead hovering over an open vent in the [441 Mich. 512] floor from which the grate had been removed. Additional packets of crack cocaine then were found beneath the vent in the apartment directly below. The total weight of all the crack cocaine recovered was less than fifty grams.

At trial, officers who participated in the search testified concerning the contents and appearance of the apartment. As they saw it, no one was living in the apartment. It contained only a few items of furniture--a couch, a refrigerator, and a broken television set. The apartment had no running water, and the toilet was not in working condition. It was apparent that the bath tub, partially filled with human excrement, was being used as a toilet.

Defendant Wolfe was arrested, searched, and found to be in possession of $265 in cash, including the two $5 bills that had been used for the controlled cocaine purchase. In addition, he had a beeper and a key to the back door of the apartment. Rogers was also arrested and searched. His possessions included a piece of paper with the number of defendant Wolfe's beeper written on it and an extra shell for the shotgun.

During the trial, Wolfe testified that he lived in Detroit, and that he had traveled to Saginaw to visit a friend, Sharon Jones, whose aunt lived in the first floor apartment directly below the second floor apartment on Sixth Street. The other men found in the second floor apartment were also from Detroit. Wolfe had invited them to Saginaw and instructed them to meet him at the Sixth Street apartment.

Wolfe and Rogers were jointly tried on charges of possession with intent to deliver less than fifty grams of cocaine and felony-firearm. Each was convicted on both counts; however, only the convictions[441 Mich. 513] of defendant Wolfe are at issue in this appeal.

Finding the evidence insufficient, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of defendant Wolfe for possession with intent to deliver, and explained: "the evidence demonstrates, at best, that defendant was at the wrong place at the wrong time." 3 Then, in view of the absence of a conviction on the principal felony drug charge, the panel also reversed the felony-firearm conviction, 4 finding it unnecessary to review the sufficiency of the evidence with regard to that count. 5 We then granted leave to appeal. 437 Mich. 1047 (1991).


In determining whether the prosecution has presented sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction, an appellate court is required to apply the standard adopted by this Court in People v. Hampton, 407 Mich. 354, 366, 285 N.W.2d 284 (1979), cert. den. 449 U.S. 885, 101 S.Ct. 239, 66 L.Ed.2d 110 (1980). There, we stated that a reviewing court "must consider not whether there was any evidence to support the conviction but whether there was sufficient evidence to justify a [441 Mich. 514] rational trier of fact in finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Page 751

This standard was articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), and has been applied regularly in the courts of this state. See Hampton, supra, 407 Mich. at 366, 285 N.W.2d 284; People v. Petrella, 424 Mich. 221, 268, 380 N.W.2d 11 (1985); People v. Lewis, 178 Mich.App. 464, 468, 444 N.W.2d 194 (1989). The sufficient evidence requirement is a part of every criminal defendant's due process rights. It is an attempt to give "concrete substance" to those rights, by precluding irrational jury verdicts. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 315, 99 S.Ct. at 2786. As the Jackson Court explained:

"The [In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970) ] doctrine [requiring proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt] requires more than simply a trial ritual. A doctrine establishing so fundamental a substantive constitutional standard must also require that the factfinder will rationally apply that standard to the facts in evidence. A 'reasonable doubt,' at a minimum, is one based upon 'reason.' Yet a properly instructed jury may occasionally convict even when it can be said that no rational trier of fact could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt...." 443 U.S. at 316-317, 99 S.Ct. at 2788.

Of course, appellate courts are not juries, and even when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence they must not interfere with the jury's role:

"[An appellate court] must remember that the jury is the sole judge of the facts. It is the function of the jury alone to listen to testimony, weigh the [441 Mich. 515] evidence and decide the questions of fact.... Juries, not appellate courts, see and hear witnesses and are in a much better position to decide the weight and credibility to be given to their testimony." People v. Palmer, 392 Mich. 370, 375-376, 220 N.W.2d 393 (1974).

With such considerations in mind, this Court determined long ago that when an appellate court reviews the evidence supporting a conviction, factual conflicts are to be viewed in a light favorable to the prosecution:

"In testing this case we are not required to take that which respondent relies upon and that which would tend against him, and from a comparison thereof determine which was the stronger and better, or deducting the one from the other, say what, if anything, was left. This would be but a weighing of the evidence and was entirely within the province of the jury. Nor are we to take the evidence in the order, question and answer, in which it was given, but finding it where we may, and putting what was most favorable to the prosecution together, and discarding all other, can this Court say it fairly tended to establish the charge made?" People v. Howard, 50 Mich. 239, 242, 15 N.W. 101 (1883); see also People v. Chesbro, 300 Mich. 720, 723, 2 N.W.2d 895 (1942); People v. Szymanski, 321 Mich. 248, 254, 32 N.W.2d 451 (1948).

In short, when determining whether sufficient evidence has been presented to sustain a conviction, a court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution and determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found that the essential elements of the crime were proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Hampton, [441 Mich. 516] 407 Mich. at 368, 285 N.W.2d 284; Petrella, 424 Mich. at 268, 380 N.W.2d 11. 6

We turn now to consider whether the evidence presented in this case was sufficient.


In its opinion, the Court of Appeals concluded that the prosecution had failed to

Page 752

present any evidence of possession with intent to deliver. It stated:

"Our review of the record does not, however, indicate any connection between defendant and the cocaine dropped down the vent by Winstead. There is no evidence linking defendant to the prior drug sale to the undercover officer, or that he had given any type of assistance, support, encouragement to anyone regarding the possession or delivery of the cocaine." (Emphasis added.) (Slip op. at 3.)

We disagree. Viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, our review convinces us that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to permit a rational jury to conclude that defendant Wolfe knowingly possessed the cocaine found at the Sixth Street apartment with the intent to deliver it.

As the Court of Appeals explained, to support a conviction for possession with intent to deliver less than fifty grams of cocaine, it is necessary for the prosecutor to prove four elements: (1) that the recovered substance is cocaine, (2) that the cocaine [441 Mich. 517] is in a mixture weighing less than fifty grams, (3) that defendant was not authorized to possess the substance, and (4) that defendant knowingly possessed the cocaine with the intent to deliver. Lewis, supra 178 Mich.App. at 468, 444 N.W.2d 194.

Upon appeal, defendant has challenged the sufficiency of the evidence only with respect to the...

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