Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 13-F0913. Honorable Daniel J. Ellender, Judge.
PEGGY SULLIVAN, Louisiana Appellate Project, Counsel for Appellant.
JERRY L. JONES, District Attorney; MADELEINE M. SLAUGHTER, MICHELLE YVONNE ANDERSON, Assistant District Attorneys, Counsel for Appellee.
Before CARAWAY, PITMAN and GARRETT, JJ.
[49,747 La.App. 2 Cir. 1]
David Jerome Manning, Jr., was charged by bill of information with possession of marijuana, methylenedioxymethcathinone
(ecstasy), and cocaine with intent to distribute (La. R.S. 40:966, 967). A jury convicted him of the three felony charges and Manning was subsequently sentenced to concurrent sentences of 21 years at hard labor on the marijuana conviction, 21 years at hard labor, the first 2 years without benefits, on the cocaine conviction and 21 years at hard labor, 5 years without benefits, on the ecstasy conviction. No fines were imposed and no motion to reconsider sentence was filed. Manning now appeals his convictions and sentences for the felony drug offenses. For the following reasons, we affirm.
As police conducted random patrol in the late evening hours of March 28, 2013, in a high-crime area of West Monroe, Louisiana, they observed an individual, who later identified himself as David Manning, backing a light-colored vehicle out of a driveway with the driver's window down. Upon seeing the police vehicles, Manning pulled the vehicle right back into the yard. When Manning exited the vehicle without turning the engine off, police approached him for questioning. After investigating the vehicle, police observed two plastic bags containing marijuana and crack cocaine, in plain view on the front passenger seat of the car. When he opened the [49,747 La.App. 2 Cir. 2] passenger door to retrieve the plain view evidence, an officer saw a third plastic bag containing 27 unidentified capsules on the passenger seat. As police entered the driver's side of the vehicle to turn the engine off, a razor blade and digital scale containing white residue were seen in the door panel compartment and a cell phone on the driver's seat. Manning was charged with possession of marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy with intent to distribute. A unanimous jury found him guilty of the three felony charges. For these offenses, Manning received three concurrent 21-year sentences for the drug felonies, with the first two years without benefits on the cocaine conviction and five years without benefits on the ecstasy conviction. This appeal ensued.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
On appeal, Manning contests the sufficiency of the evidence to convict him of the three felony drug charges. He argues that the entire case is based on circumstantial evidence and that the testimony of the officers who stated they observed him exit the vehicle was questionable. He further argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his alleged intent to distribute because the officers found no money or weapons and a minimal amount of drugs.
The trial testimony included the testimony of Monroe Police Officer Corporal Jonathan Chapman. He testified that during the late evening hours [49,747 La.App. 2 Cir. 3] of March 28, 2013,
two unmarked patrol cars were making regular patrols in the high-crime neighborhood of Magnolia Street Park in West Monroe. Chapman had personally participated in numerous drug arrests in the area. On the night in question, Chapman was driving the lead patrol car down Short Washington Street, a narrow, almost one-lane road, when he observed a light-colored vehicle, located about half a block from him. The vehicle started to back out into the street from a residence to travel in his direction. Chapman did not see any other individuals or vehicles moving around the area at the time. When the driver of the vehicle saw the marked unit, he quickly pulled back into the yard. Chapman testified that through the open driver's window, he was able to make eye contact with the driver of the vehicle, a black male wearing a white T-shirt. Chapman found this behavior, and the fact that the car window was down on a chilly night, suspicious. He proceeded to the end of Short Washington Street and looped onto the next street over (Flynn Street) and blacked out (parked and turned off his lights). He positioned his vehicle next to an empty lot which allowed him an unobstructed view of the subject car and house from the neighboring street. He described the lot as a " junkyard," that contained an unpaved trail from Short Washington to Flynn Street. Upon seeing the suspicious activity, he had also radioed the following patrol car to " keep an eye on" the vehicle. Chapman testified that while on Flynn Street, he personally watched the driver of the vehicle exit the driver's side. He confirmed that he never lost sight of the car and that nobody else approached the car, crawled under or exited it.
[49,747 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] Upon the driver's exit from the vehicle, officers in the second patrol car stopped and approached the man who had left the car running. Manning identified himself to the officers. Chapman returned to the scene and joined the other officers questioning Manning, who denied any knowledge of the vehicle or that he was driving it. Chapman testified that he recognized the man who exited the vehicle as the same man driving the vehicle and the defendant in court.
Because he believed that " something else was going on with the vehicle," Chapman walked toward the car and looked in with his flashlight. On the front passenger seat he saw two plastic bags that contained what appeared to be marijuana and cocaine. The bags were tied with knots and later determined to contain marijuana and crack cocaine. Chapman opened the vehicle on the unlocked passenger side and saw another plastic bag containing 27 unidentified capsules on the passenger seat. These pills were later identified as ecstasy. Chapman estimated the three bags to be within two to three feet of the driver's location. No fingerprints were obtained from the bags. Chapman testified that he then realized the car was running, and opened the driver's side door to turn off the engine. There he observed a digital scale and a razorblade in the door panel compartment and a white cell phone on the driver's seat. Manning was arrested by the officers at that time.
Chapman estimated that the value of the marijuana and cocaine was $400 and the ecstasy between $10-$15 a pill. He testified that he had previously recovered scales in association with drug sales.
[49,747 La.App. 2 Cir. 5] When questioned about the charges of possession with intent to distribute, Chapman testified:
Q: All right. And what indicated to you intent to distribute?
A: Numerous pills, scales, the way it was packaged. And also smoking
weed or smoking crack, usually a user, we usually find stuff like a crack pipe or a marijuana smoking device or rolling papers. There was nothing that stated that he was actually a drug user. Everything -- as far as everything was packaged, from my experience, showed that he was a drug seller.
Chapman further explained that he told Manning that everything found in the car showed distribution, including the scales which " looked like ...