EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Quick Post About the Recent Opinion in the Sabein Burgess Case

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."



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Hi Collin, You are amazing btw. Question - is this the same Detective Ritz that was part of Adnan's arrest??

Posted by: Alison | Mar 4, 2016 10:47:53 AM

Why Burgess is alleging a *conspiracy* against members of Baltimore's finest... and a Federal court is taking that seriously...but I learned on Reddit that law enforcement members could never work together to violate a defendant's rights... what to think?

Thanks for keeping us updated on this case.

Posted by: nupieds | Mar 4, 2016 7:01:47 PM

LOL love on page 14, after stating that the officers' and van gelder's motioned to dismiss on the basis of judicial estoppel. He then gives a paragraph explaining the three components necessary to successfully have a litigant estopped (estoppeled?). He then says:

"Although all three elements must be satisfied for judicial estoppel, Defendants’ argument cannot surmount even the first hurdle. [...] Plaintiff’s statements during his actual innocence proceedings are not inconsistent with his present claims of fabrication."

Posted by: Paul | Mar 5, 2016 4:56:43 AM

Don't mean to step on Colin's toes, but since he hasn't blogged in a while I'll answer Alison's question: yes, it's the same Detective Ritz. Readers, please bear this kind of evidence in mind if you read other claims on the internet that still insist Adnan must be guilty because the police detectives said so, and that anyone who unearths evidence to the contrary is smearing the reputation of innocent people.

Posted by: Dan | Mar 9, 2016 8:16:51 AM

In the article that Colin links to, it mentions that Michelle Dyson's son, Brian Rainey, was incarcerated at the time he submitted his affadavit in Burgess's case. My heart broke when I read that, because this is such a tragic example of the sorts of long-term repercussions that can result from wrongful convictions. Obviously we can't know exactly how Sabien Burgess's or Brian Rainey's lives would have gone if the police had done their job. But if Burgess had remained free, and remained in the lives of Dyson's bereaved children, is it possible that young Brian might not have gone on to commit whatever crime landed him in prison? Could that small foundation of emotional stability in his life have made all the difference? We can never know and it's just sad.

Posted by: Sakura Craigie | Mar 13, 2016 12:41:29 AM

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