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WAP “Three Strikes” client resentenced to 48 months

Washington Appellate Project client Raymond Brown was recently resentenced to 48 months after originally being condemned to die in prison under the Persistent Offender Accountability Act, otherwise known as the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law.  Prosecutors made a plea offer after Mr. Brown’s attorney, Lila Silverstein, filed a brief arguing the three strikes law is imposed in an unconstitutionally racially disproportionate manner and that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is also unconstitutionally disproportionate to the crimes.

 

Although Black people make up only about 4% of Washington’s population, they make up about 37% of three-strikes defendants. And while people convicted of multiple counts of aggravated murder are sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the three strikes law imposes the same sentence for people who committed multiple counts of second-degree assault, a crime that has a seriousness level of only four out of a possible sixteen.

 

Mr. Brown is a Black man who was sentenced to die in prison for a third strike of second-degree assault. His prior two “strike” crimes resulted in no physical harm to human beings, and he was a strong member of the community for many years between his second and third strikes. His original sentence was the result of an unfair system that disproportionately punishes Black men for lower-level offenses. Congratulations to Mr. Brown on his new lease on life.

 

The brief in Mr. Brown’s case may be found here: https://www.courts.wa.gov/content/Briefs/A03/384934%20Appellant.pdf. The settlement documents may be found here: https://washapp.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/384934_Motion_20220830093839D3823826_5898.pdf.

Drug conviction ruling reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct, use of the term “Mexican ounce”

September 22, 2022 – The Court of Appeals on Monday reversed a drug conviction for Jesus Ibarra-Erives, citing the prosecution’s use of race-based suggestions – specifically the term “Mexican ounce” – in their argument to influence the jury, undermining the presumption of innocence.

Nancy Collins, Mr. Ibarra-Erives’s attorney, stated in an email to HeraldNet that “the prosecution took advantage of despicable stereotypes.” In the State’s closing argument at trial, the prosecutor used the term “Mexican ounce” was used two times. Though the state attempted to argue that it was a relevant, common street term and that the prosecutor acted in good faith and meant no harm, what mattered was whether it could be viewed as a means to appeal to a jury’s potential prejudice. The Court found that “an objective observer who is ‘aware of the history of race and ethnic discrimination in the United States and aware of implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination’ against Latinx people, could view the prosecutor’s use of the term as an apparently intentional appeal to jurors’ potential bias,” improperly suggesting that Mr. Ibarra-Erives was more likely to have possessed drugs packed to a “Mexican ounce” merely because he speaks Spanish and appears to be Latinx.

For more information, please read the artice “Prosecutor use of term ‘Mexican ounce’ overturns Everett drug conviction” by Jake Goldstein-Street.

Read the opinion here.

 

Supreme Court condemns teen to virtual life sentence

September 9, 2022 – Despite previously ruling in State v. Haag that de facto life sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional, the Washington State Supreme Court walks back on their decision and, in a 5-4 split, condemns a teen to a 61-year sentence in State v. Anderson. 

Mr. Haag, a white man who was 17 years old at the time he committed his crime, saw his conviction of a 46-year sentence struck down as unconstitutional. In stark contrast, Mr. Anderson, a Black man who was also 17 years old at the time of his crime, saw the Washington Supreme Court uphold his 61-year sentence.

WAP Attorney Travis Stearns, Mr. Anderson’s lawyer, had this to say:

It is disturbing that youthful white offenders who have appeared before the Supreme Court received relief that Mr. Anderson, who is Black, did not.

 

Mr. Anderson has spent his time in prison making up for his mistakes. After decades of infraction-free life, he should have the opportunity to show his rehabilitation is genuine and receive a second look at his sentence. Unlike almost every other Washington youth who committed serious crimes, he will never have that chance.

 

For more information, please read these articles:

Washington Supreme Court OKs virtual life term for teen” by Gene Johnson.
WA Supreme Court upholds teen’s 61-year sentence in Tukwila double murder” by Sara Jean Green.

Opinions: State v. AndersonState v. Haag

Updated: 9/9/22 at 1:55 PM.

Reversal and dismissal in State v. Denton for speedy trial violation

September 7, 2022 – On August 31, 2022, Division III of the Court of Appeals rejected the trial court’s treatment of the speedy trial rules as “merely aspirational,” holding the State’s routine, anticipated backlogs in its crime lab that resulted in a 204-day delay between Mr. Denton’s arraignment and the State obtaining the DNA evidence violated Mr. Denton’s right to speedy trial and required reversal and dismissal of his convictions.

Congratulations to Mr. Denton and WAP Attorney Kate Benward on this outcome!

Read the published opinion here.

The ongoing fight against racial discrimination in jury selection

January 19, 2022 – As all-white juries continue to dominate, what is being done around the nation to combat the lack of diversity?

An excellent article from the Washington Post sheds light on the persisting issues surrounding racial discrimination in juries across the nation. It explores the reasons why our juries remain so predominantly white, and discusses the ongoing efforts being made to eliminate racial bias in jury selection. Lila Silverstein, a WAP attorney, is at the forefront of these efforts.

An excerpt from the article:

In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Batson v. Kentucky that the opposing attorney can object to a peremptory strike but has to show that the dismissal was an act of intentional racial discrimination. Advocates for increasing jury diversity say that bar has proven to be nearly impossible to clear. But in 2018, thanks to Byng and Silverstein’s advocacy, Washington became the first state to adopt rules aimed at eliminating not just intentional, but also implicit, bias in jury selection. […]

 

“Anecdotally, we are seeing that lawyers are being much more careful about exercising peremptory challenges to exclude jurors and that judges are sustaining objections to peremptory challenges much more frequently than they did before,” Silverstein said. “On the appellate level, there have been several cases over the last few years where the courts are reversing convictions where lawyers exercised inappropriate peremptory challenges,” she added, noting that in State v. Jefferson, the Washington Supreme Court reversed a murder conviction.

 

This has been a major shift in Washington, said Silverstein, who added that there had never been a reversal for racial discrimination in jury selection in the state before the new rule, despite the issue being raised more than 40 times since the federal Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky.

 

To learn more, please read: “Many juries in America remain mostly White, prompting states to take action to eliminate racial discrimination in their selection” by Emmanuel Felton (washingtonpost.com)