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State v. Taylor

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

October 17, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
DARRELL TAYLOR

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. CHARLES, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 16, 701, DIVISION "D" HONORABLE M. LAUREN LEMMON, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA Joel T. Chaisson, II Louis G. Authement

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, DARRELL TAYLOR Mary Constance Hanes

          Panel composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Marc E. Johnson, and John J. Molaison, Jr.

          GRAVOIS, J.

         Defendant, Darrell Taylor, appeals his sentence of twenty-five years for a conviction of distribution of heroin in violation of La. R.S. 40:966(A). On appeal, defendant argues that his sentence is excessive. He further argues that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance at the sentencing proceeding. For the following reasons, we affirm defendant's conviction and affirm his sentence as amended, and remand the matter for correction of the sentencing minute entry.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 6, 2016, a St. Charles Parish Grand Jury returned an indictment charging defendant, Darrell Taylor, with distribution of heroin in violation of La. R.S. 40:966(A). On December 20, 2016, defendant was arraigned and pled not guilty. Defendant went to trial before a jury on June 19, 2017. On June 20, 2017, defendant was found guilty as charged. The trial court ordered the preparation of a pre-sentencing investigation ("PSI") report. On September 12, 2017, the trial court sentenced defendant to twenty-five years imprisonment in the Department of Corrections, with ten years of the sentence to be served without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.[1] The sentence was ordered to run concurrently with a revocation of probation in Division "E." After the sentence was imposed, defendant moved both orally and in writing for an appeal, and both the written and oral motions were granted on September 12, 2017.

         FACTS

         In 2016, Danny Brown, a resident of St. Charles Parish, agreed to assist the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office in apprehending people who were selling drugs, in order to avoid prosecution himself on other drug charges.[2] Prior to working with the Sheriff's Office, Mr. Brown knew Darrell Taylor, defendant herein, and his brother, Tyrone, by their respective street names of "Dip" and "Meatman," and was familiar with their place of residence at 415 Boutte Estates, Boutte, Louisiana, in St. Charles Parish, where Mr. Brown would go to sell merchandise to defendant in exchange for cash to buy crack cocaine.

         Detective Allan Tabora with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office Special Investigations Division was also familiar with defendant, whom he identified in court, having arrested him on drug charges in the past. Detective Tabora began to work with Mr. Brown to investigate the Taylor brothers. On September 21, 2016, Mr. Brown was outfitted with visual and audio devices by Detectives Tabora and Kevin Tennison and given cash to execute a controlled buy at 415 Boutte Estates.

         After the purchase, Mr. Brown met with Detectives Tabora and Tennison in a secure location and turned over seven similarly packaged small foil packets, which Detective Tabora testified was a common packaging method for heroin.[3]Detective Tabora watched the digital video recording of the controlled buy obtained from Mr. Brown and recognized defendant. A search warrant was obtained for 415 Boutte Estates and executed on October 6, 2016. Foil paper, scissors, and metal spoons, among other things, were found in Tyrone's room. An arrest warrant was issued for defendant due to the September 21, 2016 incident; he was subsequently arrested for one count of distribution of heroin.

         On October 13, 2016, Brian Schulz, an expert in the field of forensic drug analysis, tested each of the seven tinfoil packets and testified that they contained heroin. Evidence admitted at trial indicated that the seven tinfoil packets collectively contained a gross weight of one gram.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER TWO[4]

         Excessive sentence

         In this assignment of error, defendant argues that his twenty-five-year sentence for distribution of heroin is unconstitutionally excessive. He argues that the sentence shocks one's sense of justice due to his age of seventy, fourth-grade level of education, addiction to heroin, and ill health. He maintains that the evidence presented at trial only showed that he was a user of heroin and not a dealer, and the circumstances surrounding the offense require a downward departure of his twenty-five-year sentence. Defendant requests that this Court vacate his sentence to allow him to file a motion for downward departure from the mandatory minimum sentence or remand for resentencing for the trial court to consider his "elder" status.

         The State responds in brief that defendant's twenty-five-year sentence of imprisonment was not unconstitutionally excessive, and the record supports the sentence imposed. It argues the seriousness of the crime of distribution of heroin, defendant's criminal history as an eighth felony offender, and the circumstances of this case do not warrant the imposition of a lesser sentence even in light of defendant's age and failing health, neither of which, the State points out, have impeded his criminal activity. It asserts that the trial court considered both defendant's age and health in imposing the sentence, and the sentence was not an abuse of the trial court's sentencing discretion.

         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 20 of the Louisiana Constitution prohibit the imposition of excessive punishment. Although within statutory limits, a sentence can be reviewed for unconstitutional excessiveness. State v. Smith, 01-2574 (La. 1/14/03), 839 So.2d 1, 4. A sentence within the statutory limits may still violate a defendant's constitutional right against excessive punishment. State v. Scie, 13-634 (La.App. 5 Cir. 1/15/14), 134 So.3d 9, 11.

         A sentence is considered excessive if it is grossly disproportionate to the offense or imposes needless and purposeless pain and suffering. Id. A sentence is grossly disproportionate if, when the crime and punishment are considered in light of the harm done to society, it shocks the sense of justice. State v. Lawson, 04-334 (La.App. 5 Cir. 9/28/04), 885 So.2d 618, 622, writ denied, 05-0244 (La. 12/9/05), 916 So.2d 1048.

         A trial judge has broad discretion when imposing a sentence, and a reviewing court may not set a sentence aside absent a manifest abuse of discretion. State v. Dorsey, 07-67 (La.App. 5 Cir. 5/29/07), 960 So.2d 1127, 1130, writ denied, 08-1649 (La. 4/17/09), 6 So.3d 786. The issue on appeal is whether the trial court abused its discretion, not whether another sentence might have been more appropriate. Id. The appellate court shall not set aside a sentence for excessiveness if the record supports the sentence imposed. State v. Pearson, 07-332 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/27/07), 975 So.2d 646, 656. In reviewing a trial court's sentencing discretion, three factors are considered: 1) the nature of the crime; 2) the nature and background of the offender; and 3) the sentence imposed for similar crimes by the same court and other courts. Id.

         In the present matter, defendant was convicted of one count of distribution of heroin in violation of La. R.S. 40:966(A). Accordingly, under the sentencing provisions in effect at the time defendant committed the offense, defendant faced a term of imprisonment at hard labor for not less than ten nor more than fifty years, with at least ten years to be served without the benefit of probation or suspension of sentence. See La. R.S. 40:966(B)(4)(a). The trial court sentenced defendant to twenty-five years in the Department of Corrections, with ten years of the sentence to be served without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.[5]

         When defendant appeared for sentencing, Ursula Ingram, the mother of defendant's daughter, advised the trial judge during a bench conference that defendant's daughter was devastated by his conviction and had asked her to speak to the court. Ursula stated that on the day of defendant's arrest, his daughter was at defendant's residence giving defendant money that he had borrowed from Ursula. Ursula ...


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