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Drug conviction upheld

July 19, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

The key that opened a door to a Hagerstown motel room where a cocaine operation was taking place was correctly seized by narcotics agents last summer, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled Wednesday.

Therefore, the conviction and 15-year prison sentence imposed on John M. Holland in Washington County Circuit Court on Dec. 30, 1997, was upheld, despite his contention that the key to Room 136 at The Venice Inn found in his belongings when he was arrested should not have been admissible as evidence.

Holland, 25, of no fixed address, argued that the search of his belongings at the Washington County Detention Center on July 16, 1997, was a warrantless search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

But the appellate court disagreed strongly, agreeing that safety is a major issue when a person is arrested and that a search of a person and his belongings for weapons is a valid warrantless search.

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Holland also claimed that Judge Fred C. Wright improperly admitted hearsay statements at his trial, an argument for which appeals court Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. showed little patience in his written opinion.

Specifically, the hearsay statement was that uttered by one of two women taken into custody after a search warrant was executed on Room 136 at The Venice Inn earlier on July 16, 1997.

As Washington County Narcotics Task Force Cpl. Robert Leatherman was taking the two women through downtown Hagerstown to be charged, one of them yelled out, "there they are," referring to the men they said were conducting the cocaine operation from the motel room.

That statement was directed at Holland and another man who were walking in Hagerstown. Based on the remark, Leatherman drove around the block and into an alley where Holland and the other man were arrested.

The Court of Special Appeals noted that police already had connected Holland to Room 136 - through information from the inn's night manager and a previous night's surveillance of the room where Holland was seen coming and going.

Lastly, the appeals court dismissed Holland's argument that the 15-year prison sentence imposed by Wright was illegal.

"The fact that a judge, even as a general rule, has a policy of imposing stiff sentences on those who bring 'a killer drug' into his community is not a failure to exercise discretion," Moylan said. "It is, rather, one of the myriad ways in which discretion can be exercised."

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