Passenger’s drug, gun convictions from traffic stop affirmed

A passenger convicted of drug and gun felonies after he briefly stepped out of a car when police pulled it over lost his appeal Thursday.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Gregory Wayne Parks’ convictions of Level 4 felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, Level 5 felony dealing in marijuana and two counts of Level 6 felony possession of a controlled substance.

According to the record, Parks was a passenger in a truck driven by Michelle Parks when an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer pulled it over because of a broken driver’s side headlight. Both the driver and passenger initially attempted to step out of the vehicle after the stop but re-entered the truck after hearing the officer’s commands to stay inside.

The officer approached the truck, smelled raw marijuana and saw joints as well as a live bullet in plain view on the center console. Neither of the Parkses had valid driver’s licenses, so the officer arrested them and searched the truck, finding a messenger bag behind the front seats containing a handgun, a brick of marijuana, Diazepam and Clonazepam pills and a scale with methamphetamine residue.

Both the Parkses denied knowledge of the contents of the bag, and the officer said Gregory Parks had said that “if he didn’t know about it, he shouldn’t be arrested,” which the officer took as an attempt to mitigate potential punishment. After a bench trial, the Marion Superior Court found Gregory Parks guilty of all charges except possession of methamphetamine. Parks was sentenced to nine years in prison.

On appeal, Park argued the state had provided insufficient evidence that he constructively possessed the bag. Judge Melissa May wrote for a Court of Appeals panel that disagreed and affirmed the convictions in Gregory Wayne Parks v. State of Indiana,

“Where a passenger is charged with possession, the evidence is more likely to be sufficient when the passenger could see the contraband and was in the best position to access it, and when no evidence clearly indicates it belonged to or was under the control of another occupant of the vehicle,” May wrote, citing Deshazier v. State, 877 N.E.2d 200, 208 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), trans. denied. The Deshazier opinion stands for the proposition that the totality of circumstances supports a conviction based on constructive possession.

“Considering Gregory’s incriminating statements, the strong odor of raw marijuana, the presence of items suggestive of manufacturing and dealing, Gregory’s proximity to the black messenger bag containing the contraband, and the items in plain view linking Gregory to the contraband, we hold the State presented sufficient evidence he had the ability and intent to possess the black messenger bag and its contents, and thus the State proved Gregory constructively possessed the black messenger bag,” May wrote.

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