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03/16/88 the People of the State of v. Bryant S. Rentsch

March 16, 1988





521 N.E.2d 213, 167 Ill. App. 3d 368, 118 Ill. Dec. 145 1988.IL.373

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Alvin Ira Singer, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE UNVERZAGT delivered the opinion of the court. LINDBERG, P.J., and WOODWARD, J., concur.


The defendant, Bryant S. Rentsch, appeals from his conviction by a jury in the circuit court of Lake County of the unlawful possession of less than 30 grams of a controlled substance (cocaine). (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 56 1/2, par. 1402(b).) He contends (1) he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the indictment was defective; (3) evidence of his past criminal record should have been excluded; and (4) the jury was improperly instructed. We affirm.

The defendant was arrested following a raid conducted on August 23, 1986, at the Lake County Work Release Facility in Waukegan, Illinois, where he was an inmate. Undercover operation reports of drug trafficking at the facility prompted the raid; the defendant was not implicated in those reports.

The raid by the Lake County sheriff's department occurred between the hours of 10:15 p.m. and 2 a.m. The defendant, who had been reading in the library area of the facility, was assembled along with all other inmates in the dayroom. The inmates were guarded, not permitted to talk, and were required to sit with their hands placed on top of their heads.

The rooms of all inmates were searched. The defendant's 8- by 10-foot room, which was shared with one other inmate, consisted of two beds, numbered 29 and 30, two lockers, two tables and two chairs. A curtain served as a door to the room. A small packet containing a white powdery substance was discovered in a corner of the one-inch-wide lip under the defendant's table. It was stipulated at trial that the substance was .14 of a gram of cocaine.

While the room search was being conducted, inmates were being strip-searched in the three-cubicle washroom adjacent to the dayroom. As some papers which had been removed from the defendant's wallet were being examined, a folded piece of paper fell to the floor. According to the deputies who searched the defendant, upon seeing the packet fall to the floor, the defendant denied knowledge of the packet stating, in effect, that it was not his and he did not know how it got there. The packet contained a small quantity of a white powdery substance which was stipulated at trial to be .22 of a gram of cocaine. The defendant was arrested.

The defendant first contends he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because the State's evidence failed to prove his control of the room where the .14-gram packet of cocaine was found. He does not challenge the sufficiency of the State's proof regarding his actual possession of the second packet containing .22 of a gram of cocaine. He asserts his constructive possession of the packet found in the room was not proved where access to his room and the table in question was unrestricted, he allowed none of his personal belongings to remain in the room, and his personal use of that area was limited to the use of his assigned sleeping cot.

In order to sustain a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the State must prove that the accused knew of the presence of the substance and that the substance was in the immediate and exclusive control of the accused. (People v. Valentin (1985), 135 Ill. App. 3d 22.) Possession may be actual or constructive. (People v. Jones (1982), 105 Ill. App. 3d 1143.) Constructive possession "'is that which exists without actual personal present dominion over a chattel, but with an intent and capability to maintain control and dominion.' (People v. Fox (1962), 24 Ill. 2d 581, 585, 182 N.E.2d 692.)" (Valentin, 135 Ill. App. 3d at 31; see also People v. Roundtree (1985), 135 Ill. App. 3d 1075, 1080.) Controlled substances found on premises under the control of a defendant give rise to an inference of knowledge and possession by him which alone may be sufficient to sustain a conviction for unlawful possession of controlled substances. (People v. Scott (1987), 152 Ill. App. 3d 868.) Mere access by other persons to the area where drugs are found is insufficient to defeat a charge of constructive possession. Scott, 152 Ill. App. 3d at 871; People v. Ortiz (1980), 91 Ill. App. 3d 466.

The State correctly points out that the defendant has misrepresented in his argument the evidence presented at trial. Access to the inmates' rooms was not "unrestricted"; defendant testified they were not allowed to walk into other people's rooms. Although inmates sometimes did go into others' rooms, defendant testified, "If you didn't want to get caught, you didn't go in there." Further, defendant, who had been assigned to the room since March 1986, did keep personal items in the room. He testified he kept clothes, shoes, jackets, a few books and toiletry articles in the room. Lastly, defendant not only slept in the room, he admitted he had had occasion to sit at the table where the packet of cocaine was found.

Possession and knowledge are questions of fact to be resolved by the jury (People v. Valentin (1985), 135 Ill. App. 3d 22), and a criminal conviction will not be set aside unless the evidence is so improbable or unsatisfactory that it creates a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt. (People v. House (1986), 141 Ill. App. 3d 298; People v. Birge (1985), 137 Ill. App. 3d 781.) In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction, the relevant inquiry is whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. (People v. Williams (1987), 118 Ill. 2d 407.) We conclude without reservation that from ...

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