ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has thrown out a mandatory 10-year sentence imposed on a two-time drug dealer, claiming that the state failed to prove the same man committed both crimes.
The court Wednesday upheld Michael A. Taylor’s conviction of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, rejecting his claims that he was illegally searched when police arrested him in 1996.
But the court also ruled that the state did not show that Michael A. Taylor was the same man as Michael D. Taylor, who was convicted of the same charge in North Carolina in 1989.
The case began in February 1996, when a Baltimore County woman told police her boyfriend had taken a shotgun and was “up to some sort of no good.” Police later surrounded the boyfriend’s car at a shopping center and stopped Taylor as he went to get into the back seat.
When an officer frisked Taylor he felt a hard object in his jacket pocket that he thought might be a gun. It turned out to be a cellular phone, but when the officer pulled it out of Taylor’s pocket, a bag with 28 smaller bags of cocaine also came out of the pocket.
Taylor was found guilty of possession with intent to distribute.
At his sentencing, a Baltimore County detective testified that Taylor had been convicted in North Carolina, making him a repeat offender eligible for the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years without parole.
Detective William Valentine produced a certified copy of Michael D. Taylor’s 1989 conviction of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in North Carolina. He also testified that a certified fingerprint technician had told him Michael A. Taylor’s prints matched those of Michael D. Taylor.
Based on Valentine’s testimony, Taylor received the 10-year minimum sentence.
Taylor’s attorneys objected, saying Valentine should not have been allowed to speak for the fingerprint expert.
Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Graeff argued on appeal that evidence rules are looser for a sentencing than during a normal trial, which is why Valentine’s testimony should be allowed.
But a three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals disagreed, saying the state should not have used second-hand testimony from Valentine to show that the two Michael Taylors were the same man.
“The state proved the offense and then relied on rank hearsay” to link the two incidents, the court wrote. It ordered a new sentencing hearing for Taylor.
“They didn’t prove their case,” said Bradford Peabody, an assistant public defender who handled Taylor’s appeal.
Peabody said the public defender’s office may yet challenge the court’s finding that the search was legal. He said his office will decide what to do next week.