Skilled Legal Representation For the People of Philadelphia & Beyond SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION

Indifference to Brutality: The Case of Dalishia Danika Salter's Aggravated Sentence (February 17, 2023)

Town Law Publishing March 3, 2024

 female defendant sitting at the defense tableCom. v. Dalisha Danika Salter, 2023 PA Super 27 (Feb. 17, 2023)

Background of the Case

The case of Dalishia Danika Salter involves a disturbing incident of child abuse that occurred on the night of September 12, 2014. Salter, the defendant, was found guilty of several charges, including aggravated assault, stemming from her brutal assault on her infant son, D.B., who was only eleven months old at the time.

The events leading to the charges against Salter began when she sent a series of alarming text messages to David Bryant, the father of D.B. In these messages, Salter expressed her violent actions towards their son and her indifference to his well-being. One message read, "Beat df out ya son big ass knot bleedn putn him outside u want dat piece of shit take em cuz bet ima kill him bitch!!!!!!" followed by "He will be outside bitch" and "On god! Prob die n too idgaf FUCK U AND HIM STG BETTER TAKE EM TO DA." These messages, sent around 11:30 p.m., indicated that Salter had physically assaulted D.B. and left him outside on the back porch of her Wilkinsburg home, next to the garbage.

Upon receiving these messages, Bryant, who was at a friend's house in Wilkinsburg, became concerned for his son's safety and rushed to Salter's home. There, he found D.B. exactly where Salter said she left him, alone and crying on the porch. Bryant began recording the scene on his cell phone, capturing D.B.'s distress and his own emotional reaction. The video showed Bryant sobbing, banging on the door, and eventually kicking it down after Salter failed to respond. Inside the apartment, Bryant confronted Salter, repeatedly questioning her about the assault on their son, to which she responded with indifference, saying things like "I don't care," "Oh well," and "I told you to get him."

Bryant, distraught and not thinking straight, left the house and called an ambulance. He also contacted his sister, Tennille Webb, and spoke with the police. Webb provided the police with the text messages and video evidence that night.

In the early hours of September 13, 2014, officers from the Wilkinsburg Police Department arrived at Salter's residence following a report of possible child abuse. They found Salter in the living room, calm and without any signs of distress, despite her lip being bloody and swollen. The officers then discovered D.B. in the master bedroom, lying on an adult bed without safety railings, crying and in obvious pain. The child had visible bruising on his face and head, a bleeding nose, and was in need of immediate medical attention.

Salter told the officers a different story, claiming that she had been sleeping in her bedroom with D.B. at the foot of her bed when Bryant broke into the house. She alleged that Bryant pushed a flatscreen TV onto the bed, causing it to fall on D.B., and then assaulted her and fled the scene. Salter claimed that after Bryant left, she attempted to dress D.B., placed him in a car seat on the back porch, and sat on the bed for about an hour without seeking medical help or contacting the police.

The officers had doubts about Salter's version of events and asked her to accompany them to the police station for further questioning. They also located Bryant and obtained the text messages and video evidence from his sister. After reviewing the evidence, the police arrested Salter for assaulting her child.

D.B. was taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he underwent a CT scan of his head and additional x-rays. He was admitted to the pediatric ICU unit, placed in a neck collar, and had to have an abdominal CT due to evidence of abdominal injury. Dr. Jennifer Wolford, the attending physician in the Division of Child Advocacy at Children's Hospital, evaluated D.B. and found that he had sustained numerous and serious injuries consistent with physical abuse. D.B. had significant bruising on both sides of his face, was in the third percentile for his age regarding weight, had swelling across his nose, bursted blood vessels in his right eye, skull fractures on both sides of his head, and trauma on both sides of his face. He also had two rib fractures of different ages and a liver contusion, indicating blunt trauma to the abdomen.

Dr. Wolford concluded that D.B. had been the victim of physical child abuse on more than one occasion and likely repeatedly. She estimated that D.B. suffered at least 20 blows to the head and firmly rejected the idea that his injuries could have been caused by an accidental single event, such as a television falling on him.

Throughout the trial, Salter maintained her innocence, testifying on her own behalf and denying that she was the cause of D.B.'s injuries. She recounted her tumultuous relationship with Bryant and the altercation on the day of the incident. Salter's friend, Tiesha Griffin, also testified, stating that she had never noticed any bumps or bruises on D.B. while babysitting him. However, the jury found Salter guilty of the charges, leading to her conviction and sentencing.

 female defendant sitting at the defense tableLower Court's Decision

Salter was sentenced to a total of seven-and-one-half to fifteen years of incarceration, with an aggravated sentence specifically imposed for the count of aggravated assault. Salter filed a post-sentence motion challenging the weight and sufficiency of the evidence, which was denied by the court. She then appealed to the Superior Court, focusing solely on the claim that the lower court abused its discretion by imposing an aggravated sentence based on her apparent lack of emotion and remorse during the trial.

Superior Court's Ruling

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania reviewed the appeal of Dalishia Danika Salter, who challenged the aggravated sentence imposed on her for the count of aggravated assault. Salter's appeal focused on the trial court's consideration of her lack of emotion and remorse during the trial as a factor in determining her sentence.

The court began by outlining the standard of review for sentencing, emphasizing that sentencing is within the broad discretion of the sentencing judge. The court highlighted that an abuse of discretion is not demonstrated merely by an error in judgment but requires evidence that the sentencing court ignored or misapplied the law, acted with partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill will, or arrived at a manifestly unreasonable decision.

Salter contended that the trial court improperly based its decision to impose an aggravated-range sentence on her failure to display emotion and remorse during the trial. She argued that this consideration burdened her federal and state constitutional privileges against self-incrimination. The court acknowledged that while a trial court is free to impose a harsher sentence based on a lack of remorse, Salter's argument suggested that displaying a lack of remorse at trial implies a lack of desire to incriminate oneself.

The court noted that the trial court had the opportunity to observe Salter throughout the entire trial and that the judge had a clear view of the defense table. The trial court had noted that during the trial, while evidence of the brutal assault on her son was presented, including pictures of his injuries and cell phone video of the distressed child, Salter showed no emotion. The only time Salter displayed any emotion was when she was convicted, and that emotion was for herself.

The Superior Court found that the trial court did not infringe on Salter's constitutional protections against self-incrimination. The court explained that the trial court's observations of Salter's lack of remorse during the trial were permissible. The court further stated that even if a sentence is based on an impermissible factor, as long as independently valid reasons exist for imposing an aggravated sentence, it must be affirmed.

 female defendant sitting at the defense table

The Superior Court affirmed Salter's judgment of sentence, finding no abuse of discretion by the trial court in considering her lack of emotion and remorse during the trial as a factor in determining her sentence. The court emphasized that the trial court had considered all necessary factors, including the horrific nature of the crimes, the defenselessness of the victim, and Salter's own history of domestic abuse, in crafting her sentence.