A fact pattern in the office of every criminal defense lawyer recently resulted in a rare win for the defendant.
The case, State v. Fleming, involved a defendant who was convicted in trial court on trafficking and possession charges and sentenced to 30 months in prison. On appeal, the defendant-appellant raised claims that the trial court erred in overruling his pretrial motion to suppress and in allowing the State to present Facebook Messenger texts at trial, and that his convictions for trafficking were based on insufficient evidence.
In it’s ruling, the Second District Court of Appeals held that the court did not err in overruling Mr. Fleming’s motion to suppress evidence arising from a reasonable traffic stop. However, the Court sided with Mr. Fleming on claims that the trial court did fail to establish a sufficient basis for the trafficking convictions.
In its ruling, the Court called attention to the fact that due to a prior unrelated incident, Fleming was being investigated by the Springfield Police Department Drug Unit, that the Detective on the case had obtained a search warrant for a Facebook account belonging to an individual believed to be Fleming prior to his arrest, and that a subsequent investigation of the account revealed communications between the Facebook user and known drug users and dealers in the area, including discussions about sales. The Detective testified about some of these messages at trial, after which he admitted during cross-examination that the messages began approximately a month prior to the traffic stop which led to Fleming’s arrest.
In challenging his convictions for trafficking, Fleming argued that the Facebook messages predated his arrest by roughly a month, and that the amount of drugs found on him during his arrest was consistent with personal use. He further contended that the State failed to sufficiently connect statements made on the Facebook account to his arrest to prove that drugs were for sale.
The Court agreed, noting that it could not conclude that the State’s evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s finding that Fleming engaged in drug trafficking on the date of his arrest, and that the nothing in the circumstances surrounding his arrest suggested that he was engaged in trafficking, including no evidence of money, drug packaging materials, scales, or other items indicative of trafficking.
As the Court noted in its opinion:
“While it is possible that Fleming was transporting drugs on April 15, 2020, knowing that the drugs were intended for sale or resale by him or someone else, the jury could not have reasonably drawn the inference that Fleming actually was engaged in drug trafficking on April 15, 2020 based on the evidence before us. There was simply no evidence to support a conclusion that, on April 15 specifically, Fleming was transporting the drugs at issue to traffic them. We therefore conclude that Fleming's convictions for trafficking in cocaine and aggravated trafficking in drugs (methamphetamine) were based on insufficient evidence. Accordingly, his fourth assignment of error is sustained.
The Court of Appeals ultimately reversed Fleming’s convictions for trafficking by concluding there was an insufficient basis for the jury to conclude the drugs on Mr. Fleming was for sale. As attorneys who routinely represent defendants in drug crimes cases, our team at KBN believes this appellate matter was both a brilliant display by counsel and a gutsy decision by the Second District.
Source: State v. Fleming. Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Clark County. June 3, 2022.