Thursday, March 3, 2016
I don't have much time now, but I wanted to do a quick post about the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland in Burgess v. Baltimore Police Department. We discussed Burgess's case on Undisclosed, and here is a good article about it. Basically, Sabein Burgess
was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1995 in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Michelle Dyson, in her Harwood home the year before...
In October 1998, a prisoner named Charles Dorsey wrote to Burgess' mother saying he was behind the killing....
Detectives interviewed Dorsey but discounted the confession because it lacked details....
In April 2010, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project obtained previously undisclosed police notes in Burgess' case. They included statements that Dyson's then-6-year-old son, Brian Rainey, had made a statement that cast doubt on Burgess' involvement.
In 2012, Rainey, who was incarcerated at the time, said he had witnessed the moments before his mother's killing and corroborated Dorsey's account. He and Dorsey both wrote affidavits with their accounts of the night Dyson was killed.
The mounting evidence prompted a Baltimore judge to order a new trial in February 2014. The state's attorney's office dropped charges against Burgess.
Thereafter, Burgess filed a federal lawsuit against several defendants, including the Baltimore City Police Department, Detective William Ritz (who interviewed Dorsey but didn't disclose his confession to the defense), and Daniel Van Gelder, a crime laboratory analyst.*
The defendants then moved to dismiss Burgess's lawsuit. In its March 1st opinion, the court did dismiss some of the claims made by Burgess but also allowed several others to go forward. One of these was Burgess's claim that Detective Ritz and others violated his rights by failing to disclose Dorsey's confession. The defense construed this as a Brady claim and correctly argued that Brady applies only to evidence obtained before trial.
The problem for the defense was that Burgess made a Due Process claim, not a Brady claim. According to the court,
The post-conviction due process inquiry asks whether the claim "'offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranged as fundamental,' or transgresses any recognized principle of fundamental fairness in operation."...
Burgess contends that the Officer Defendants’ actions with respect to the 1998 confession are further evidence of their continuing efforts to conceal any possibility of an alternative perpetrator. This alleged cover up violated Burgess’s post-conviction due process rights, as articulated by the Osborne Court. At the motion to dismiss stage, these allegations are sufficient to plead a plausible due process violation.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this case as it proceeds.
*According to the opinion, "the Officer Defendants allegedly conspired with Defendant Daniel Van Gelder, a crime laboratory analyst at BPD, to fabricate gunshot residue (“GSR”) evidence to ensure the Plaintiff’s conviction."