A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

Bob Muench has contributed the following item

DALLAS — A Dallas police sergeant with a checkered disciplinary past is now facing serious allegations that he lied in a drunken driving case.

The concerns surround whether Sgt. Stephen “Tiny” Baker fabricated the original reason for the 2012 traffic stop and then continued to lie about it, even in the face of video evidence.

Baker, a 21-year-veteran of the department, was stripped of his badge and gun earlier this month. He remains on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

“There’s a big problem, because we can’t have people being above the law, and we can’t have people breaking the law to enforce the law,” said Ashkan Mehryari, an attorney who represented the man arrested in that DWI case.

Sgt. Stephen Baker is accused of lying in a drunk driving case, even in the face of video evidence.

In that case last month, Baker boasted of his importance in DWI cases, calling himself the department’s “resident expert.” Baker coordinated the department’s intoxilyzer (breath-testing) program at the jail. He conducted many of those tests as well, meaning his testimony would be crucial in court. Sources said he also delivered blood samples collected in DWI cases to the lab.

Legal experts said Baker’s situation may well put other cases in jeopardy if the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office determines that he was not a credible witness.

“If he’s going to be an essential fact witness, then it could affect their ability to prosecute the cases,” said Toby Shook, a former high-ranking Dallas County prosecutor.

The DA’s office declined to comment. But sources with knowledge of the situation said cases involving Baker are already being collected and reviewed.

Dallas police officials say their investigation is continuing. They downplayed the seriousness of the situation.

“Currently, there is no indication that the outcome of the investigation should have any effect on other criminal cases,” Assistant Chief Patricia Paulhill said in a written statement to News 8.

Officer disputes video evidence

Dallas police Sgt. Stephen Baker has been stripped

Dallas police Sgt. Stephen Baker has been stripped of his gun and badge after being accused of lying in a DWI case. (Photo: Dallas PD)

The traffic stop at the center of Baker’s troubles occurred in the early morning hours of July 6, 2012, at the intersection of South Carroll and Columbia Avenues.

Dashcam video shows a Ford Mustang — driven by Marcial Salazar — making a right turn. The dashcam shows Baker running a red light to stop Salazar, indicating that Salazar actually had a green light when he made the turn.

After Baker pulled him over, Salazar initially denied having had anything to drink. He soon admitted that he had been drinking. Salazar failed a series of field sobriety tests and he was arrested.

Baker explained to Salazar that the reason he stopped him was because he ran a red light.

“You drove right through the light, making a right turn without stopping, sir,” Baker said in the recording.

Last month, Salazar’s case was heard in County Criminal Court No. 3.

That dashcam video was played over and over for Baker. Baker repeatedly insisted that Salazar ran the red light, refusing to acknowledge his error.

“I don’t make too many mistakes,” he testified.

At one point, Baker said his light turned from green to yellow as he approached the intersection. The video shows his light was red the entire time.

“I’ve never seen someone stare at a blatantly red light and declare it ‘green’ with a straight face,” Mehryari said. “I said, ‘Officer, I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but this is the only solution I can really come up with to reconcile these events: Are you color blind?’ He said, ‘No.'”

Baker also insisted that he was in a parking lot when he first saw Salazar. The video shows that’s not true, either.

“The officer is just plainly on the street,” Mehryari said. “It was a baffling situation. I didn’t understand why he was lying about certain things.”

In the end, Judge Doug Skemp concluded that it was not “very probable” that the lights were red in both directions.

“I find the officer wavering on when, where, why, and how he saw the red light,” the judge said, according to a court transcript. “Whatever light he saw him run, it’s clear that the car was in the street and not in the parking lot, which calls into question his credibility on that issue. So I do find the officer’s testimony that the defendant ran a red light not to be credible.”

The judge granted Mehryari’s motion to suppress. He then instructed the jury enter a finding of not guilty.

Mehryari said the jury was visibly upset and “borderline scared” that Baker could be someone who is training and supervising other officers. He said prosecutors were taken aback by Baker’s reaction to the judge’s ruling.

“He insinuated the Dallas Police Department didn’t care,” Mehryari said. “When the judge found him to not be credible, he didn’t care — just shrugged it off and walked away.”

“It was a wrong decision”

Long before this, Baker already had a troubled disciplinary history.

In 2000, he was suspended for harassment and doing personal business on duty after — among other things — he ran driver’s license checks for personal reasons and spied on an ex-girlfriend to see if she was sleeping with her boss.

In 2003, Baker was suspended for failing to report a traffic accident.

In 2012, his supervisors recommended that Baker be put in a personnel development program for troubled police officers because he had had four “inappropriate use of force” complaints spanning two years. The complaints had, at one point, led to him being removed from patrol and transferred to the communications division.

He was in the development program from February to May 2012.

While he was in that program, he got in trouble yet again for putting another officer in danger. In March 2012, Baker had a rookie officer crawl into an apartment through a window to unlock the front door to retrieve items belonging to a domestic violence victim.

After the rookie got inside, a man suddenly appeared and had what appeared to be a gun in his waistband. It turned out to be a pellet gun.

“It was a wrong decision, and I know it was a wrong decision,” Baker told commanders, according to an audio recording of his April 2013 disciplinary hearing. “I was just trying to take care of the complainant, who had been beaten up pretty good and had no place to stay.”

Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence told Baker that he had put another officer in danger and showed poor judgment by taking a victim back to where she had been assaulted. Lawrence also mentioned Baker’s long disciplinary history.

“Please, Steve, learn from this,” Lawrence told him. “Don’t come back here again.”

Baker responded, “Yes, sir.”

He received a five-day suspension.

A few months later, Baker was promoted to sergeant. That boost in rank was given even though an interview board had unanimously recommended that Baker not be promoted, based on his disciplinary history and work history.

By then, he had already been transferred to the jail.

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Supreme Court PA

Click for report and text of proposed rule

Rec 124 for publication (3-25-15)

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The forensic pathologist who had spent the better part of 30 years investigating violent deaths walked into a Minnesota courtroom in 2012, braced to testify at another grueling murder trial.

Jonathan Arden quickly took stock of the case: A 4-month-old boy had collapsed in his father’s care and died from lethal head injuries. Damien Marsden, 33, faced decades in prison, accused of shaking the baby to death.

Once, Arden had been a firm believer in Shaken Baby Syndrome, long considered a deadly form of child abuse. But in rural Warren, Minn., in April 2012, the former state expert took the stand for the defense, describing how a thin layer of old blood on the surface of the baby’s brain was a telltale sign of an injury that had occurred before the baby had been left alone with his father.

Jurors spent less than three hours deliberating before acquitting Marsden of murder.

“A lot of people in this field, especially many of the pediatricians, make statements that are absolute and dogmatic and do not allow for the exceptions that we know exist,” Arden told The Washington Post. “Do you want to be involved in somebody’s wrongful conviction because you had this dogmatic approach that it must be trauma, it must be shaking?”

Arden is among a number of doctors who once diagnosed Shaken Baby Syndrome but now doubt the science behind it, swayed by more than a decade of research that’s documented how diseases, genetic conditions and accidents can, in some cases, produce the conditions long attributed to violent shaking.

Click for entire report from the Washington Post

Six years ago, in a tidy home day care on the edge of a cornfield, with angel figurines in the flower beds and an American flag over the driveway, 9-month-old Trevor Ulrich stopped breathing. He had contusions on his scalp and bleeding on the surface of his swollen brain.

Within weeks, day-care owner Gail Dobson was charged with killing the baby in a fit of frustration at the business she had run for 29 years along a rural stretch of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Sunday school teacher and grandmother of three was convicted of second-degree murder in 2010, eight months shy of her 54th birthday, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“To me, she is a monster,” Trevor’s mother told a local television reporter in 2013. “She is a cold-hearted killer.”

But what prosecutors called a clear-cut case of child abuse is now mired in doubt. Two doctors working on Dobson’s appeal last year argued that the scientific testimony used against her was fundamentally flawed. A judge overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial, finding that a jury hearing that argument could have had “a reasonable doubt” about her guilt.

Doctors for the prosecution said Trevor had been a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome, a 40-year-old medical diagnosis long defined by three internal conditions: swelling of the brain, bleeding on the surface of the brain and bleeding in the back of the eyes. The diagnosis gave a generation of doctors a way to account for unexplained head injuries in babies and prosecutors a stronger case for criminal intent when police had no witnesses, no confessions and only circumstantial evidence.

It has also led to more than a decade of fierce debate: Testing has been unable to show whether violent shaking can produce the bleeding and swelling long attributed to the diagnosis, and doctors have found that accidents and diseases can trigger identical conditions in babies.

Challenges to the diagnosis have spilled into courts on two continents. In 2005, Britain’s Court of Appeal found that the head and eye injuries alone were not absolute proof of abuse and, in Sweden last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the scientific support for the diagnosis had “turned out to be uncertain.”

In the United States, 16 convictions have been overturned since 2001, including three last year. In Illinois, a federal judge who recently freed a mother of two after nearly a decade in prison called Shaken Baby Syndrome “more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

Despite the uncertainty, prosecutors are still using the diagnosis to help prove criminal cases beyond a “reasonable doubt” against hundreds of parents and caregivers.

Click for entire report from The Washington Post

capdomejpg-607e08e45f2ab233May 1 is deadline to comment on proposed Juvenile Rule concerning challenge to weight of the evidence

Click for Proposed Rule

Click for Explanatory Report

Session schedule

Senate

April 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22

May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13

June 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30

House

March 30, 31

April 1, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22

May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13

June 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

Public hearing March 24 in Philadelphia on medical cannibas

March 24– House Health and Judiciary Committees hold a joint hearing on medical cannabis.  University of Pennsylvana Health System, Perelman School of Medicine, Zumbrow Auditorium, 800 S. Spruce St., Philadelphia. 10 a.m.

Public hearing March 26 in Philadelphia on death penalty moratorium in Philadelphia

March 26– House Judiciary Committee hearing on death penalty moratorium.  Philadelphia City Hall, Room 400, 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd. 2:00 p.m.

Public hearings in Harrisburg

March 25– Senate Appropriations Committee  1 p.m.- Dept. of Corrections, Office of Probation and Parole, 3:00 p.m. Hearing Room 1 North Office Building.

April 8– House Judiciary and Health Committees hold a joint hearing on medical cannabis: law enforcement and federal government.  Room 140. 9:30 a.m..

stateCapital

Session schedule

Senate

April 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22

May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13

June 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30

House

March 30, 31

April 1, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22

May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13

June 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

Budget hearings

March 17– Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing: 9:30 a.m.- Attorney General.  Hearing Room 1 North Office Building.

March 17– House Appropriations Committee budget hearing: 2 p.m.- Departments of Health, Drug & Alcohol Programs.   Room 140 Main Capitol.

March 18– Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing: 9:30 a.m.- Judiciary, 1 p.m.- State Police, Homeland Security, 3 p.m.- Dept. of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Hearing Room 1 North Office Building.

March 18– House Appropriations Committee budget hearing: 9:30 a.m.- State Police/ Homeland Security, 11 a.m.- Dept. Corrections/Board of Probation & Parole, 1:30 p.m.- State Court System.  Room 140 Main Capitol.

March 25– Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing:  1 p.m.- Dept. of Corrections, Office of Probation and Parole. Hearing Room 1 North Office Building.

Legislative hearings

March 18- House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness hearing on 911 rewrite.  Room G-50 Iris Building.  10:30 a.m..

March 24– House Health and Judiciary Committees hold a joint hearing on medical cannabis.  University of PA Health System, Pereleman School of Medicine, Zumbrow Auditorium, 800 S. Spruce St., Philadelphia. 10 a.m..

March 26– House Judiciary Committee hearing on death penalty moratorium.  Philadelphia City Hall, Room 400, 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd. 2 p.m..

April 8– House Judiciary and Health Committees hold a joint hearing on medical cannabis: law enforcement and federal government.  Room 140. 9:30 a.m..

Sentencing Commission

March 18-19– Commission On Sentencing meeting.  PA Judicial Center.  (formal notice and detailed schedule

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News release from Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, March 12, 2015

HARRISBURG—Pennsylvania’s judiciary today unveiled criminal caseload “dashboards,” the latest in a series of interactive, web-based data visuals that allow the public, court staff and researchers to quickly analyze and interpret data related to criminal cases.  The new dashboards provide a detailed look at statewide criminal caseloads, and an overview of each county’s criminal case activity over the course of a calendar year.

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“Dashboards have proven to be valuable resources that continue to help judges and court staffs make informed decisions about court operations. They also make it possible for Pennsylvanians to see the important work being done by the judiciary, and provides this data to the public in an accessible format,” said Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin.

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The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) has published annual caseload statistics for years, as a way to:

• Track changes in caseloads over time

• Allocate court resources

• Identify efficient court practices.

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“As the public becomes more data savvy, offering a visual interpretation allows access for a broader audience, and continues to position the Pennsylvania judiciary as a recognized national leader in public transparency and data reporting practices,” added Justice Eakin.

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There are three caseload dashboards – Statewide, County and Case Type – incorporating data from cases before the Courts of Common Pleas, the general civil and criminal trial courts of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Municipal Court. The new criminal dashboards display the number of new cases filed and concluded annually, by case type, as well as the manner of disposition.

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Over the past year, the AOPC has unveiled a variety of dashboards including court financial data on collections and disbursements of fines, fees, costs and restitution; civil caseload statistics; child dependency data; and protection from abuse information. Dashboard data is presented through static tables and interactive data, allowing users to analyze and interpret court statistics at a glance.

Click for Dashboard Table of Contents

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