Norbert Fernano Rennie v. State of Arkansas

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JUNE 16, 2004


NO. CR2001-543B,



Sam Bird, Judge

Norbert Rennie was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver after police discovered 257 pounds of marijuana in the semi-truck he was driving on Interstate 40 between Van Buren and Alma, Arkansas. He was convicted by a jury and was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment in the Arkansas Department of Correction. He raises one point on appeal, contending that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing particular parts of a state trooper's testimony. Rennie's argument is procedurally barred because it is being made for the first time on appeal. Thus, the conviction is affirmed.

Dan Hedges, a forensic chemist for the state crime lab, testified at trial that 257 pounds of marijuana would produce approximately 233,000 marijuana cigarettes. The next witness was Sgt. Miki Molnar of the Van Buren Police Department, who stated that he was assigned to the federal drug task force. Rennie raised several objections during Molnar's testimony, the first being as follows:

Prosecutor: What are your duties and responsibilities as an agent with the Federal DEA Task Force?

Defense Counsel: Objection, may we approach?

Defense Counsel: I don't see any relevancy of Officer Molnar's testimony. He just stated he's a DEA Officer- or knows all about this DEA but he was not there, he's not been indicated by either of the officers that were there, I don't see any relevance here, why would...

Trial Court: ... I don't know [Defense Counsel] what the State is doing, but I'm going to let them qualify him, I think he's got some experience in the drug area and this area, so I'm going to let them show that if they have some questions, you can make your objections at the appropriate time.

Rennie's second objection was also denied by the trial court, shown as follows:

Witness Molnar: Based on my experience, I would say that I have a good understanding of the narcotics trade and specifically marijuana... the value of marijuana in our jurisdiction, our county, and our state.

Prosecutor: Okay. Sergeant Molnar, I want to ask you... .

Defense Counsel: I'm going to object.

Trial Court: Your objection is overruled.

Molnar then testified that, based upon his experience, a personal use amount of marijuana could be anywhere from a joint to an ounce, and that a quarter of an ounce could produce three or four joints. Rennie's next objection was as follows:

Prosecutor: And what would a quarter ounce, what would the value of a quarter ounce of marijuana on the street be?

Defense Counsel: Judge, I'm going to object to this line, and I'd like to make a record at this time.

Trial Court: Your objection is overruled.

Defense Counsel: [Sidebar conference out of the hearing of the jury]

The defendant objects to the witness testifying as to what the value of marijuana is because there is no recognizable market for the illicit drugs and any price that anybody would pay for that would not be ascertainable because there is no recognized market.

Rennie also objected to Molnar's testimony that the value of the 257 pounds of marijuana would be anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000, based upon the price ranges and depending upon where the marijuana was sold. The basis of Rennie's objection was that although Molnar had been qualified "as a person having knowledge of marijuana in this area of Crawford County," he was testifying as to the value of marijuana outside the county area. This objection, too, was overruled. Molnar proceeded to testify that the quantity at issue suggested that the person involved was selling it or was a courier, and that the marijuana was not for personal use. Molnar testified that well-paid people who haul drugs across the country are called couriers or mules. Molnar stated that he did not know the particulars of the case being tried.

Rennie testified in his own defense that he and Croydon Berry had made three round trips together as truck drivers, that Berry picked up a load of wine in Albuquerque while Rennie was still in the motel there, that they never discussed picking up a load of marijuana, and that Rennie was not present when it was picked up. Rennie points out in his brief that he signed a consent form to allow the truck to be searched, and he states that he would not have done so had he known that there was marijuana in the trailer along with the wine. Rennie argues on appeal that Sgt. Molnar's testimony regarding the street value of marijuana and an amount for personal use was not relevant and was inadmissible because the trial court failed to consider and apply the fundamental requirements of Ark. R. Evid. 702 (2004). Rule 702 states:

Testimony by experts. If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

Rennie complains that the only value of Sgt. Molnar's testimony was to confirm that 257 pounds of marijuana would not typically be held for personal use, a fact that cannot be said to be beyond the comprehension of the average juror. He notes that his defense theory at trial was that he did not possess the marijuana at all; he did not defend on the basis that the possession was for personal use. As shown earlier in this opinion, however, at trial Rennie objected only that Molnar's testimony was not relevant because Molnar was not physically present when the marijuana was found in the truck, and that he was testifying as to the monetary value of the drugs outside of Crawford County. An appellant is limited by the scope and nature of his objections and arguments presented at trial, and he may not change the grounds for objection on appeal. Woods v. State, 342 Ark. 89, 27 S.W.3d 367 (2000). In the case now before us, we affirm the point on appeal because Rennie presents to us an argument not made to the trial court.

Even if we were to address the argument made on appeal, we would reject it. Although possession of more than one ounce of marijuana creates a rebuttable presumption of possession with intent to deliver, see Ark. Code Ann. ยง 5-64-401(d) (Supp. 2003), it was permissible for the State to offer additional evidence on the issue of intent to deliver because the presumption was not conclusive. See Heritage v. State, 326 Ark. 839, 936 S.W.2d 499 (1996). In the present case, Sgt. Molnar's testimony, which was based upon his personal knowledge and professional experience and training, was helpful to giving the jury a clear understanding of a fact in issue, that being whether Rennie possessed marijuana with intent to deliver. Cf. Carter v. State, 46 Ark. App. 205, 878 S.W.2d 772 (1994) (holding that there was substantial evidence to support a conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver where the defendant possessed less than the presumptive amount but a detective testified that possession of eight rocks indicated to him possession "for the sole intent of selling it"). Thus, we would find in the present case that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing Sgt. Molnar's testimony.


Vaught and Crabtree, JJ., agree.