July 22, 2019
Anthony Scarlet doesn’t deny that police found a loaded gun, a magazine holding four bullets, a stray bullet and 27 grams of marijuana when they stopped the red 2001 Pontiac Grand Am he was driving along Germantown Avenue around 11:30 p.m. on January 16, 2016.
About nine months later, he pleaded guilty to a trio of weapons offense which, along with a marijuana possession charge, represented the latest entries in a long line of criminal charges the man from the city’s Hunting Park neighborhood has faced in his 34 years of life.
So why was Scarlet back before Common Pleas Judge Scott DiClaudio on Monday morning?
At a Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing, he argued that the search which led to those discoveries was illegal, and that he should be set free.
Going further, Scarlet claimed he’s currently serving five to 10 years in state prison solely because his defense attorney failed to file the motion to suppress that he’d requested. That motion could have gotten the search thrown out on grounds that he didn’t actually run two stop signs before he was stopped by police.
Making matters more interesting is the identity of the attorney who represented Scarlet at trial: Larry Krasner. Yep, the same Larry Krasner who now serves as the city’s district attorney, the progressive who critics brand as someone who's a friend to criminals and foe to cops.
Due to that convergence of details, the city’s D.A. was summoned to the stand on Monday as a witness.
This would happen in the courtroom of a judge with whom Krasner is engulfed in a legal battle regarding judicial impartiality. The clash stems from a complaint filed by DiClaudio's girlfriend with the Human Relations Commission claiming she was fired from the D.A.’s office because she’s white.
It made for a rather interesting day in Courtroom 905 of the Criminal Justice Center in Center City.
Though DiClaudio and Krasner set aside whatever level of grudge-fueled ambivalence they might harbor, that didn’t make the mood any less awkward.
The hearing wouldn’t start until just before 10:30 a.m., but the backstory dates back to April.
That’s when DiClaudio denied a motion brought by the D.A.’s office seeking to keep the judge from hearing criminal cases because “a reasonable person would question Judge DiClaudio’s impartiality in any case in which the Office represents a party.”
That decision was appealed to Pennsylvania Superior Court, where it remains under consideration, but it has led to some crazy months where cases are being shipped from DiClaudio’s courtroom to other judges.
On Monday, Deputy Attorney General Carson B. Morris sat at the table where an assistant district attorney would normally sit, while Scarlet was represented by his current attorney, Mark Mungello.
Over the course of a hearing that lasted less than two hours, Mungello called his client to the stand, followed by Krasner and Scarlet’s mother, Claudette Smith.
Morris would call no witnesses at a hearing during which he, and a handful of representatives from the D.A.'s office in the gallery, seemed somewhat befuddled as to why it was even happening.
Scarlet sported a light-blue shirt with D.O.C. emblazoned on the back, indicative of his confinement at SCI Phoenix, the state prison in Montgomery County.
“I thought (the motion to suppress filing) was a 95 to 98 percent loser depending on the judge." – Larry Krasner
Scarlet’s argument broke down to an “ineffective assistance of counsel” claim solely because Krasner did not file the motion to have the vehicle search deemed inadmissible.
Scarlet would claim that he pleaded guilty to the charges because that was presented as his best option. This, because in another wrinkle, Scarlet’s sister attempted to commit suicide in Georgia when he was scheduled for trial, and was on life support.
He wanted, and received, the court’s permission to leave the state before sentencing so he could “go down there, say goodbye and pull the plug.”
“I was told not to say anything because I wanted to go see my sister. I felt like my back was up against the wall,” said Scarlet who, when asked for Krasner’s response to that request, added, “He said 'it’s an election year and all a judge is going to see is a case that gets a firearm off the streets.'”
Within his 10 days of temporary freedom, though, Scarlet was arrested on another drug charge, a transgression that turned what could have been a three-year stint into a possible decade behind bars.
None of that stopped Scarlet from arguing that evidence found during the Germantown Avenue traffic stop was “fruit from the poisonous tree.”
That argument hinged on claims that he didn’t run the stop signs that police claimed he did, and Mungello’s stance that Scarlet was never issued tickets for those infractions, despite that being common practice in cases where Philadelphia police make traffic stops that result in weightier charges.
Krasner took the stand just after 11 a.m. and would testify for a shade over 20 minutes. He said he recalled the case, and read up on the notes of testimony and other related documents to prepare for Monday’s hearing.
“Not accurate,” said Krasner about Scarlet’s account of events.
Krasner said he didn’t fully buy into his client’s “stop sign” defense, calling it a “rambling version of what happened.”
“I did not expect a judge would find him credible,” said Krasner. “I thought (the motion to suppress filing) was a 95 to 98 percent loser depending on the judge. To me, (accepting a deal) was the only viable strategy.”
As Scarlet shook his head and demanded, in vain, to get put back on the stand to respond, Mungello reiterated the defense that nobody knows what would have happened had that motion been filed.
Morris, speaking for the prosecution, reiterated the merits of the plea, the longshot nature of the motion being filed and Krasner’s pre-D.A. reputation as a “diligent, dedicated defense attorney.”
“He was prepared. He did his job," said Morris. "The chances of success were nil."
By 12:15 p.m., the hearing was over.
DiClaudio scheduled a hearing for August 19 to share his decision on the matter.
As for Krasner, he had apparently said all he’s going to say about the case from the stand for now.
“He has no plans to issue comment on this matter today,” responded his spokesperson, Jane Roh, via email.
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