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State v. Shanks

August 16, 2010


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 06-04-0986.

Per curiam.


Submitted April 27, 2010

Before Judges Carchman and Ashrafi.

Defendant Sheena Shanks appeals her conviction by a jury on charges arising from police seizure of crack cocaine from the pantry in her residence. We affirm.

On March 21, 2006, Atlantic City police executed a search warrant for defendant's residence in Stanley Holmes Village, a public housing complex.*fn1 Defendant and her nine-year-old daughter were the only persons present in the residence. On a high shelf in a pantry, the police found a popsicle box that contained only a clear plastic bag with rock cocaine. Laboratory testing confirmed that the substance was cocaine and weighed slightly more than three-quarters of an ounce.

The police also found an envelope containing marijuana on top of a dresser in defendant's bedroom. Laboratory analysis later confirmed that the substance was marijuana and weighed 4.33 grams. In further searching the bedroom, the police found a glass bowl in a box in the closet, and it contained burnt marijuana residue.

Defendant was indicted on four counts of a five-count indictment.*fn2 Count two charged third-degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1); count three second-degree possession of more than one-half ounce of cocaine with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and -5b(2); count four third-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7; and count five second-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute within 500 feet of a public housing facility, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1. In addition, defendant was charged with disorderly persons possession of marijuana, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(4), and disorderly persons possession of drug paraphernalia, N.J.S.A. 2C:36-2.

In her opening statement at trial, defense counsel argued that defendant had no knowledge of the cocaine in the pantry, and that her involvement on these charges was the result of an unfortunate relationship with an "unsavory" boyfriend, Donald Byard, who was present in her home on the morning before the search warrant was executed.

The State's case consisted primarily of the testimony of the police officers who conducted the search and a police expert who testified about the means and methods of distribution of crack cocaine in rock form.

The State also called as a witness a senior property manager for the Atlantic City Housing Authority. Two client worksheets kept by the Housing Authority were admitted in evidence without objection. From the worksheets, the witness testified that defendant and her daughter were the only authorized residents of the apartment listed on the lease for 2006 and a third child was added for 2007. Byard was not listed as an authorized occupant. On cross-examination, the witness testified that other people could be living in residences at the Stanley Holmes complex, but they would be unauthorized occupants if they stayed for more than fourteen days. The witness mentioned that defendant's rent was $277 per month.

In the defense case, defendant called an Atlantic City Police officer to testify about another search of defendant's residence on November 1, 2005, about four months before the search resulting in the charges in this case. The officer testified that defendant consented to the search after she was told that the police had arrested Byard in possession of a handgun. She pointed out the location of an oatmeal box in a cabinet above the stove that contained about sixty-six grams of crack cocaine and a large amount of money. Defendant was not charged with any crimes after the November 2005 seizure of cocaine.

Defendant testified that Byard was her boyfriend until she broke up with him in January 2006. In November 2005, she was aware that he had been selling drugs and she accepted his financial help, knowing it was the proceeds of drug sales. She testified that after Byard's arrest and the police search in November 2005, she had warned Byard not to jeopardize her home and family by keeping drugs in the house. She said she routinely checked his pockets to make sure he was not bringing drugs into the house.

Defendant testified that Byard no longer stayed with her after January 2006. Still, she spoke to him on the phone every day, and he continued to support her financially. He also visited her regularly, including picking up her daughter from school. On cross-examination, she said it was acceptable for her to receive his financial assistance, despite knowing it was drug sale proceeds, because she was pregnant with his child.

Defendant also testified that, one day before execution of the search warrant, she cleaned the pantry and put the popsicle box on a high shelf to prevent her daughter from eating too many popsicles. She said the box contained push-up, liquid popsicles, not cocaine. She said that Byard brought her daughter home from school on the afternoon of March 21 and stayed for a while in the kitchen helping her with homework. Defendant went upstairs because her pregnancy made ...

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