March 10, 2014
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
RODNEY LEGGETT Appellant
Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence April 9, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0002638-2012
BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., BOWES, J., and OTT, J.
Rodney Leggett appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed on him following his conviction for violating 18 Pa.C.S. § 6105(a)(1), felon not to be in possession of a firearm. Leggett has raised one issue in this timely appeal; he claims the Commonwealth did not produce sufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. After a thorough review of the submissions by the parties, relevant law, and the certified record, we affirm.
On February 12, 2012, Philadelphia police detectives executed a search warrant for the property at 6100 Callowhill Street in Philadelphia. N.T. Trial, 2/11/2013, at 11. The police had received information from a person that Shakeriah Curry, a resident of the second floor apartment at that address, was illegally obtaining cable television and having the service billed to the complainant. Id. at 12. The complainant also indicated that Rodney Leggett was a resident of the same second floor apartment. Id. at 30.
When Detectives John Leinmiller and Gilson served the warrant, Detective Leinmiller looked through a small window in the front door of the building. Id. at 13. He observed Leggett come to the front door from the upstairs hallway. Id. at 14. After entering the residence, he determined that the only place Leggett could have been coming from was the back second-floor bedroom. Id. at 16, 37. Despite initially acting in an irate manner, Leggett allowed the police to enter. Id. at 16. However, because of his initial reaction to the police presence, it was necessary to handcuff Leggett to insure the detective's safety. Id. at 51.
In addition to Leggett, there were two or three adult women in the apartment as well as some children in the back bedroom. Id. at 19. The children were watching television. Id. at 21. While searching the back bedroom, in plain view on a bedside table, Detective Leinmiller observed 13 red 12 gauge shotgun shells. Id. at 19. Under the bed, the detectives found a .22 caliber rifle, loaded with 11 live rounds of ammunition; ten rounds were in a magazine and one was in the chamber. Id. There were also two boxes of .22 caliber ammunition under the bed, containing a combined 84 live rounds. Id. Additionally, the police found a Comcast bill addressed to Leggett at the Callowhill address. Id. at 23. Counsel stipulated that Leggett had been convicted of a felony and was ineligible to possess a firearm.
In his defense, Leggett presented the testimony of Latifah Cade, who testified Leggett was her best friend. Id. at 77. Additionally, she testified she had been temporarily living at the Callowhill residence, in the front bedroom with Leggett and his girlfriend, Curry. Id. at 84. She claimed Curry had rented the back bedroom to a person named Robert Whaley and that she was present when Curry accepted rent money from Whaley and provided him with receipts. Id. at 76. Although she had never seen the rifle prior to the police finding it, she believed it belonged to Whaley. Id. at 74. Cade testified that at the time the rifle was found, she told the detectives the gun belonged to Whaley. Id. at 73. Detective Leinmiller testified he was not so informed. Id. at 33. Neither Whaley nor Curry testified at trial.
As a general matter, our standard of review of sufficiency claims requires that we evaluate the record "in the light most favorable to the verdict winner giving the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence." Commonwealth v. Widmer, 560 Pa. 308, 744 A.2d 745, 751 (2000). "Evidence will be deemed sufficient to support the verdict when it establishes each material element of the crime charged and the commission thereof by the accused, beyond a reasonable doubt." Commonwealth v. Brewer, 876 A.2d 1029, 1032 (Pa. Super. 2005). Nevertheless, "the Commonwealth need not establish guilt to a mathematical certainty." Id.; see also Commonwealth v. Aguado, 760 A.2d 1181, 1185 (Pa. Super. 2000) ("[T]he facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not be absolutely incompatible with the defendant's innocence."). Any doubt about the defendant's guilt is to be resolved by the fact finder unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that, as a matter of law, no probability of fact can be drawn from the combined circumstances. See Commonwealth v. DiStefano, 782 A.2d 574, 582 (Pa. Super. 2001).
The Commonwealth may sustain its burden by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. See Brewer, 876 A.2d at 1032. Accordingly, "[t]he fact that the evidence establishing a defendant's participation in a crime is circumstantial does not preclude a conviction where the evidence coupled with the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom overcomes the presumption of innocence." Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Murphy, 795 A.2d 1025, 1038-39 (Pa. Super. 2002)). Significantly, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the fact finder; thus, so long as the evidence adduced, accepted in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, demonstrates the respective elements of a defendant's crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, the appellant's convictions will be upheld. See Brewer, 876 A.2d at 1032.
Commonwealth v. Stays, 70 A.3d 1256, 1265-66 (Pa. Super. 2013).
Here, Leggett claims that the Commonwealth did not prove he possessed the rifle. Possession may be proven either directly or constructively.
Here, because Leggett was not in physical possession of the rifle, the Commonwealth was required to demonstrate constructive possession.
Constructive possession is a legal fiction, a pragmatic construct to deal with the realities of criminal law enforcement. Constructive possession is an inference arising from a set of facts that possession of the contraband was more likely than not. We have defined constructive possession as conscious dominion. We subsequently defined conscious dominion as the power to control the contraband and the intent to exercise that control. To aid application, we have held that constructive possession may be established by the totality of the circumstances.
Commonwealth v. Brown, 48 A.3d 426, 430 (Pa. Super. 2012), appeal denied, --- Pa. ---, 63 A.3d 1243 (2013)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Additionally, it is possible for two people to have joint constructive possession of an item of contraband. Commonwealth v. Sanes, 955 A.2d 369, 373 Pa. Super. 2008), appeal denied, 601 Pa. 696, 972 A.2d 521 (2009).
Commonwealth v. Hopkins, 67 A.3d 817, 820-21 (Pa. Super. 2013).
As the trial court noted, the evidence presented in this matter proved constructive possession. Trial Court Opinion, 7/12/2013, at 2. Leggett was a resident of the address and received mail there. As the police waited outside for someone to answer the door, they witnessed Leggett coming from the area of the back bedroom. The back bedroom was open and occupied by children at the time the police searched the residence. Shotgun ammunition was plainly visible on a side table in the back bedroom. A loaded .22 caliber rifle and 84 extra rounds of .22 caliber ammunition were found in the back bedroom, under the bed.
The trial court made no specific finding regarding whether Whaley had rented the room. However, the trial court noted that as a resident of the apartment, the fact the back bedroom was open and accessible to anyone, occupied by children, Leggett was seen leaving the back bedroom area and Whaley was not present (and as far as the certified record reveals, he was never located at all), gave rise to the permissible presumption that Leggett had access to the back bedroom. Additionally, the trial court noted that the plainly visible ammunition demonstrated the likelihood that Leggett was aware of the firearm.
We are guided by the decision in Commonwealth v. Aviles, 615 A.2d 398 (Pa. Super. 1992), in which the defendant was found to have constructively possessed drugs, where she was a lessee, had access to all bedrooms in the residence, was present at the time of the search and none of the bedrooms were locked. Notably, in Aviles, the trial court accepted proof that the bedrooms in which the drugs were found had been rented to relatives of Aviles. However, because the bedrooms were open and Aviles was a resident with access to the rooms, her constructive possession was still proven.
In light of the foregoing, we find no error in the trial court's determination that Leggett constructively possessed the rifle and therefore it properly found there was sufficient evidence to support his conviction.
Judgment of sentence affirmed.