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Joshua Raspberry v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

October 29, 2019


          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF HAMPTON Christopher W. Hutton, Judge.

          Ronald L. Smith (Smith Law Firm, PLC, on brief), for appellant.

          Rosemary V. Bourne, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Malveaux and Senior Judge Frank Argued at Hampton, Virginia.



         Following a bench trial, the Circuit Court for the City of Hampton ("circuit court") convicted appellant Samuel Rudolph Joshua Raspberry ("Raspberry") of two counts of possession with intent to distribute narcotics-cocaine and methamphetamine-both in violation of Code § 18.2-248; possession of a concealed weapon, in violation of Code § 18.2-308; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of Code § 18.2-308.2; and possession of a firearm while in possession of a controlled substance, with the intent to distribute, in violation of Code § 18.2-308.4. This appeal follows in which Raspberry assigns error to the admission of court records regarding his prior criminal history and to the sufficiency of the evidence that he constructively possessed the two firearms found in the vehicle he was operating.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 18, 2017, the Virginia State Police contacted Hampton Detective Juan Figueroa ("Detective Figueroa") about Raspberry because Raspberry had an outstanding capias. Virginia State Police also informed Detective Figueroa that Raspberry would be present at a specific address in Hampton, Virginia, later that same day. Detective Figueroa subsequently travelled to the location where he expected Raspberry to appear and set up surveillance. At that time, Detective Figueroa also possessed information that Raspberry would be driving a gray Ford Fusion with "Virginia tags."

         At approximately 2:45 p.m., Officer Figueroa witnessed Raspberry parking a gray Ford Fusion. Detective Figueroa then pulled his vehicle behind Raspberry and identified himself. Detective Figueroa told Raspberry that Raspberry was under arrest and directed Raspberry to get out of the vehicle. After confirming Raspberry's identity, Detective Figueroa searched Raspberry incident to arrest. During the search of Raspberry's person, Detective Figueroa discovered a green Crown Royal bag in Raspberry's right pocket, which contained 12.65 grams of cocaine, "roughly $1, 000" in $10 and $20 bills, a digital scale, and 45 MDMA (methamphetamine) pills. Detective Figueroa also discovered marijuana on Raspberry's person, for which Raspberry was not charged.

         After searching Raspberry's person, Detective Figueroa searched a bag located on the front passenger seat of Raspberry's vehicle. The bag contained two firearms wrapped in a pair of jeans and two Gatorade bottles. The Gatorade bottles had condensation on the outside of the bottles. When Detective Figueroa opened the bag, he saw the jeans and the guns on top, with the Gatorade bottles underneath and at the bottom of the bag.

         At Raspberry's trial, which took place on April 6, 2018, Detective Figueroa testified for the Commonwealth. After being qualified as an expert in narcotics distribution, Detective Figueroa testified that the quantity of drugs that Raspberry possessed, its packaging, the amount of money discovered, and Raspberry's possession of the digital scale were all inconsistent with personal use. Detective Figueroa also testified that the "street value" of the cocaine discovered on Raspberry's person was "about $1, 400 worth." Further, Detective Figueroa indicated that there was a "noticeable nexus between firearms and drugs" in the City of Hampton because "people . . . will protect their products or their merchandise and their currency with firearms." Detective Figueroa also agreed that a "large quantity of [drug] dealers carry firearms" on their person.

         Raspberry's girlfriend, Miosa Henderson ("Henderson"), owned the gray Ford Fusion that Raspberry drove on the day of his arrest. At trial, Henderson testified that officers arrested Raspberry after Raspberry arrived to pick her up from work. Henderson also noted that Raspberry frequently drove her vehicle. She also testified that the bag discovered by Detective Figueroa on the front passenger seat of the vehicle did not belong to her and that she did not know who it belonged to.

         At the beginning of the trial, the Commonwealth offered three certified orders from the Circuit Court for the City of Hampton indicating that Raspberry was a convicted felon.[1] Raspberry, however, objected to the admission of the court orders because they "were not signed by a judge."

         Each of the three court orders indicated that Raspberry was previously convicted of a felony and contained electronic signatures from judges as opposed to physical signatures. The first court order introduced by the Commonwealth is titled "Revocation of Suspension of Sentence" order and dated December 19, 2014. The signature line reads "S/CHRISTOPHER W. HUTTON," and the word "JUDGE" appears below it. The second court order is also titled "Revocation of Suspension of Sentence" and dated April 24, 2009. The signature line reads "S/BONNIE L. JONES," with the word "JUDGE" below it. The third and final court order introduced by the Commonwealth is titled "Sentencing Order" and dated August 6, 2008. The signature line reads "S/RANDOLPH T. WEST," with the word ...

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