ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals Tuesday overturned the supervised probation and mandatory drug treatment prescribed for a Prince George’s County man, ruling that the trial judge neglected strict sentencing guidelines in his decision.
In an opinion for the state’s second highest court, Judge Dale R. Cathell wrote that the trial court erred in failing to sentence Dilante Antonio Wheeler to a mandatory five years’ imprisonment.
Wheeler pleaded guilty in 1995 to distributing more than 16 ounces of PCP and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking offense. After year and a half of postponements, he was sentenced to two concurrent 20-year prison terms. Prince George’s Circuit Judge Darlene Perry suspended that sentence and placed Wheeler on supervised probation for five years and in an inpatient drug treatment facility.
But less than 12 days after being admitted into the facility, Wheeler escaped. The trial court rescinded the commitment for drug treatment and issued a warrant for his arrest. Wheeler, who is still at large, will be resentenced after the warrant is served.
Assistant State’s Attorney David Whitacre nonetheless decided to appeal the original sentence. He argued that the trial court’s action was improper under Maryland law, which states that “it is mandatory upon the court to impose no less than five years’ imprisonment, and neither that term of imprisonment nor any part of it may be suspended” for anyone involved with 16 ounces or more of PCP in liquid form.
The Court of Special Appeals agreed with the state, saying “the plain language of the statute indicates the Legislature intended to punish more severely persons who are manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing certain controlled dangerous substances in large quantities.”
Whitacre also argued that committing Wheeler to drug treatment prior to his sentence being served should not have been an option available to the court.
The appeals court agreed, saying that the law did not “give the trial court discretion to commit a criminal defendant to drug treatment prior to the imposition of the mandatory sentence.”
But Joe Beshouri, Wheeler’s trial attorney, said the state’s drug sentencing law contained enough ambiguity for him to make a decent argument for the court to have discretion.
“I thought what the state was asking for was out of line and excessive,” Beshouri said. Yet Beshouri was not surprised by the appeals court’s decision, which he said logically laid out the opposing argument. -30-