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Taylor v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

September 17, 2019

RUDOLPH DAVID TAYLOR, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge

         Rudolph David Taylor, a Virginia inmate proceeding with counsel, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his 2015 Tazewell County criminal conviction. This matter is before the court on respondent's motion to dismiss. After reviewing the record, the court concludes that respondent's motion must be granted.

         I.

         On August 14, 2015, after Taylor entered an Alford[1] plea, the Circuit Court of Tazewell County entered final judgment, convicting him of one count of transporting a Schedule I or II drug and two counts of possessing with intent to distribute a Schedule I or II drug. The court sentenced Taylor to a total of seventy-five years in prison, with all but thirteen years suspended. In entering the Alford plea, Taylor reserved the right, under Virginia Code § 19.2-254, to challenge on appeal the trial' court's denial of his suppression motion.[2] Taylor appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, assigning the following errors:

I. There was insufficient nexus between the intended destination of the parcel and the address to which it was delivered by law enforcement.
II. The information contained in the affidavit to secure the search warrant was too stale to be considered reliable by a magistrate.
III. The conditional anticipatory search warrant failed to state a triggering event which would satisfy the requirement that there would be a fair probability that contraband would be found inside of Taylor's residence at the time the search warrant was served and the premises searched.
IV. The conclusions propounded by law enforcement to obtain the search warrant were not based upon the personal knowledge as presented in the affidavit, but upon statements taken from an informant some sixty (60) days prior, whose credibility and reliability were untested and not supported as required within the affidavit.

         The Court of Appeals of Virginia summarized the relevant facts and proceedings in the trial court as follows:

On October 22, 2013, a Customs and Border Patrol agent intercepted a package containing 116 grams of methylone, a substance commonly referred to as "bath salts," at a FedEx facility in Alaska. The package was sent from Shijazhaung, China, and addressed to "Dave Taylor" at "106 Dial Rock Road" in Tazewell, Virginia. The Customs and Border Patrol agent delivered the package to the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), and a DHS agent agreed to attempt a controlled delivery of the package in Virginia.
The DHS agent travelled to Tazewell and obtained a warrant to search the residence located at 106 Dial Rock Road. This warrant was anticipatory in nature, and only allowed the agent to search the premises if an individual accepted the package "into the residence." On October 28, 2013, the agent attempted to deliver the package while disguised as a FedEx employee. A resident living at 106 Dial Rock Road informed him that Taylor did not live at that address and refused to accept the package. Thus, the triggering condition of the anticipatory warrant did not occur and the agent and other assisting police officers from the Town of Tazewell did not search the residence.
The DHS agent contacted the Tazewell County Sheriffs Office ("Sheriffs Office") the next day to inform them about the failed delivery. When the agent inquired about a possible investigation of Taylor's involvement in the distribution of narcotics, officers informed him that they had been investigating Taylor for eight months. In February of 2013, the Sheriffs Office had received information that Taylor was buying bath salts online from a source located in a foreign country, importing them into the United States through the postal system, and selling them. Following this initial report, Taylor's former girlfriend, Elizabeth Elswick, was arrested for possessing bath salts. She claimed that she had received the drugs from Taylor and that he ordered them through the mail.
Elswick also provided the police with a packaging slip, or "waybill," concerning one of Taylor's bath salt transactions. The waybill referred to a package addressed to "Rudolph Taylor" at "6555 Pounding Mill Branch Road, Pounding Mill, Virginia," that had been mailed on August 12, 2013. Like the package intercepted by DHS, the package described in the waybill had been sent from Shijazhuang, China. Records from the Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") confirmed that Taylor listed "6555 Pounding Mill Branch Road" as his address.
Utilizing the supplemental information from the prior investigation of Taylor, Detective Bill Perry of the Sheriffs Office requested a warrant to search the residence located at 6555 Pounding Mill Branch Road. In his affidavit ...

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