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.
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.
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. Anderson, State v. Haag
Updated: 9/9/22 at 1:55 PM.
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.