CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON AUGUST 28, 2017
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE WALLY EKLUND
J. JACKLEY Attorney General MATTHEW W. TEMPLAR Assistant
Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff
MATTHEW T. STEPHENS Rapid City, South Dakota Attorney for
defendant and appellant.
Christopher Martin appeals from his conviction of unlawfully
possessing a controlled substance. He contends the
State's evidence was insufficient to prove he knowingly
possessed oxycodone. We affirm.
On September 15, 2015, Rapid City Police Officer Eric
Holmquist located an abandoned vehicle that Martin had
reported stolen. While waiting for Martin to arrive,
Holmquist determined Martin had an outstanding arrest
warrant. When Martin arrived, he was arrested on the warrant
and searched incident to arrest. Holmquist found twenty-three
oxycodone pills in Martin's pocket, along with ten $100
bill and a combination of smaller bills. The pills appeared
to be prescription medication but they were wrapped in
cellophane from cigarette packaging. Martin claimed that the
pills belonged to "a friend or friends, " and that
he was unaware of what they were.
Detective Jim Ganser started a follow-up investigation.
Martin told Ganser the pills belonged to "Jessica,
" but Martin did not provide a last name. Martin claimed
Jessica must have dropped the pills in the pickup he was
driving when he went to her residence to talk to her about
his stolen vehicle. However, Martin inconsistently stated
that Jessica never got into the pickup and that she only
talked to him through the passenger window. Although Martin
also indicated he had been to Jessica's home several
times, he claimed he did not know her address-so he drew a
map. Because the map did not lead to Jessica's home,
Ganser used a property management company to determine
Jessica's last name and address.
Jessica's statements to Ganser was more incriminatory
than exculpatory. She told Ganser that Martin was driving a
motorcycle, not a pickup, when he came to her home. At trial,
Jessica also disclosed she kept prescription oxycodone and
other similar looking pain medication in her house. She
explained that she had been taking oxycodone for
approximately three or four years for chronic pain. Although
Jessica was on probation for attempting to obtain more
oxycodone by calling in her own prescription, she denied
selling or giving any of her medications to
Martin. She did, however, testify that Martin had
access to her home. She testified Martin was a close
acquaintance that she had known for at least a year and a
half. She also testified that she had given Martin a key to
her home prior to travelling to Utah in the late summer of
2015; and the day before his arrest, Martin had been in her
home discussing his stolen vehicle.
Martin moved for judgments of acquittal at the close of the
State's evidence and after the jury verdict. Both motions
were denied. Martin now appeals. He concedes he knowingly
possessed the pills, but he contends the evidence was
insufficient to prove he knowingly possessed oxycodone, a
In reviewing the denial of a motion for judgment of
acquittal, "we determine 'whether, after viewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any
rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'"
State v. Uhing, 2016 S.D. 93, ¶ 10, 888 N.W.2d
550, 553-54 (quoting State v. Plenty Horse, 2007
S.D. 114, ¶ 5, 741 N.W.2d 763, 765). "We will not
'resolve conflicts in the evidence, assess the
credibility of witnesses, or reevaluate the weight of the
evidence.'" State v. Hauge, 2013 S.D. 26,
¶ 12, 829 N.W.2d 145, 149 (quoting State v.
Morgan, 2012 S.D. 87, ¶ 10, 824 N.W.2d 98, 100).
"If the evidence, including circumstantial evidence and
reasonable inferences drawn therefrom sustains a reasonable
theory of guilt, a guilty verdict will not be set
aside." Id. This is a question of law that we
review de novo. State v. Linson, 2017 S.D. 31,
¶ 5, 896 N.W.2d 656, 659.
Under South Dakota law, "[n]o person may knowingly
possess a controlled drug or substance unless the substance
was obtained directly or pursuant to a valid prescription or
order from a practitioner . . . ." SDCL 22-42-5.
Affording the most natural reading to language like that
found in SDCL 22-42-5, "the word 'knowingly'
applies not just to the statute's verb[ ]
[("possess")] but also to the object of [that]
verb[ ]-'a controlled substance.'" See
McFadden v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 2298,
2304, 192 L.Ed.2d 260 (2015) (citations omitted) (extending
the "knowing" requirements found in 21 U.S.C.
§ 841(a)(1) (2010) to controlled substance analogues under
21 U.S.C. § 813 (2012)). In interpreting our statutory
language, we have also stated the State must prove the
defendant "knowingly possessed a
controlled substance." See State v. Toben,
2014 S.D. 3, ¶ 10, 842 N.W.2d 647, 649 (emphasis added)
(citing SDCL 22-42-5). Thus, we have indicated
"possession requires that an individual be aware of the
presence and character of the [drug]." State v.
Riley, 2013 S.D. 95, ¶ 16, 841 N.W.2d 431, 436
(quoting State v. Mattson, 2005 S.D. 71, ¶ 22,
698 N.W.2d 538, 547); accord Toben, 2014 S.D. 3,
¶ 13, 842 N.W.2d at 651 (quoting Dawkins v.
State, 547 A.2d 1041, 1046 n.10 (Md. 1988)) ("Most
states adopting the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, like
South Dakota, hold that 'the accused must not only know
of the presence of the substance but also of the general
character of the substance.'"); see also State
v. Barr, 237 N.W.2d 888, 891 (S.D. 1976) (citing
State v. Kietzke, 85 S.D. 502, 186 N.W.2d 551
(1971)) (recognizing the Court has held knowledge of the
drug's character is an element of the charge of unlawful
possession). But we also agree with many other jurisdictions
holding that a defendant need not "know the exact nature
of the substance in his possession, only that it was a
controlled substance of some kind." United States v.
Martin, 274 F.3d 1208, 1210 (8th Cir.
Therefore, the question in this appeal is whether the
evidence was sufficient to prove Martin knew the pills he
possessed were a controlled substance of some kind. Although
there was no direct evidence on that point, the State was
entitled to prove that element "through circumstantial
evidence." Uhing, 2016 S.D. 93, ¶ 11, 888
N.W.2d at 554. Here, when Martin was arrested, he was not
just carrying prescription pills in his pocket, he was
carrying pills wrapped in cellophane together with a large
number of $100 dollar bills. Thereafter, he offered a number
of inconsistent and demonstrably false stories concerning the
source of the drugs. There was also evidence that Martin had
access to Jessica's prescription oxycodone. Jessica was
unorganized in how she stored her pills; Martin had a key to
Jessica's residence; she had recently been away in Utah;
and the pills in Martin's pocket were of the same
appearance as the type in Jessica's prescription bottle.
Ultimately, Martin's own defense enabled the jury to
infer he knew the pills were oxycodone. Jessica was
Martin's friend and acquaintance for over a year; she had
been taking prescription oxycodone for chronic pain during
this friendship; she was on probation for trying to illegally
obtain more; and the pills Martin possessed appeared to be
the same type as Jessica's oxycodone. From this evidence,
the jury could have believed that Martin was in possession of
Jessica's pills, and if that was the case, he certainly
would have known that they were oxycodone.
"Ultimately, it was for the jury to resolve the factual
conflicts, weigh credibility, and sort out the truth."
State v. Guthmiller, 2014 S.D. 7, ¶ 27, 843
N.W.2d 364, 372. When viewed cumulatively and taken
in a light most favorable to the jury's verdict, there
was sufficient evidence and inferences therefrom for a