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COVID-19: Statewide restrictions lifted as of June 30; new office policies for reopening

Under Governor Inslee’s Washington Ready plan, COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted statewide as of June 30. The Washington Appellate Project will now be transitioning to normal office hours – 9:00 AM to 5:00PM, Monday to Friday. In compliance with Inslee’s reopening guidelines, our office requires that face masks be worn unless the visitor is fully vaccinated or has a condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. Masks will remain available for all guests if needed.

The safety of our employees, clients and community while continuing to meet our obligations to our clients remains a top priority for our office.

The importance of racial diversity in juries

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

April 29, 2021 – A deeper look into jury racial composition shows the necessity of racial diversity in creating a fairer justice system.

Last week, we spoke about and shared an article on jury diversity and what is being done about it in Washington State.

This new, timely article from VOA examines the jury from State v. Derek Chauvin trial in particular and further emphasizes why the racial composition of a jury matters so much. The article references another important study conducted by psychology professor Sam Sommers from Tufts University, wherein he examined stereotyping, prejudice and cognitive bias in mock juries. This research revealed that diverse juries deliberated longer, were more thorough on their consideration of evidence and facts, and were less likely to presume that a defendant was guilty.

Other studies, according to Sommers, showed that all-white juries tend to be more punitive towards Black defendants than diverse juries and white jurors were more careful when working with diverse jurors. It seems to make sense that the sharing of perspectives between a diverse group of people would lead to a more thoughtful jury.

A diverse jury such as the one involved in the Chauvin trial is a step forward, but it is sadly still not the norm. As Washington Appellate Project attorney Lila Silverstein states in the article: “I was surprised to learn that this [Chauvin] jury was diverse, because usually that’s not the case in any state in this country. No state has really gotten it right. Juries are supposed to reflect their communities, and our founders thought this was a critical element of democracy, because the government should not get to decide who should be locked up in prison, or even who should prevail in a civil dispute. Ordinary citizens exercise that right.”

Our justice system still has a long way to go, but the tides are turning. With the research and hard work of individuals and groups across the nation, such as the Equal Justice Initiative as well as our very own creation of the Jury Diversity Task Force here in Washington state, a bright future for criminal justice reform seems to be just on the horizon.

For more information on this topic, please read this article: “Why a Jury’s Racial Composition Matters” by Dora Mekouar.


Improving jury diversity in Washington State

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

April 22, 2021 – Minor ethnicities are vastly underrepresented in jury pools across the nation, and Washington State is spearheading the efforts to address this longstanding problem.

Research shows that a diverse jury is essential to creating fairer trials – however, the US is struggling to bring racial and ethnic minorities into jury pools.

Courts across the states are now looking to Washington State in hopes of understanding why this is happening and what can be done about it.

Back in 2017, the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission (MJC) and Washington Appleseed co-hosted an annual Supreme Court Symposium, focused on jury diversity and utilizing research to create a plan of action. Washington Appellate Project attorney Lila Silverstein spoke at the symposium. “Studies show that racially diverse juries spend more time deliberating, make fewer errors, and result in fairer trials than non diverse juries, yet the Equal Justice Initiative has concluded that there is perhaps no arena of public life in which racial discrimination is more widespread, apparent and seemingly tolerated than in the selection of juries,” she states.

She explains why this is happening: “The problem begins before the courthouse doors even open, when members of marginalized communities stay home with their children, or report to their job sites, instead of reporting for jury duty. For some it’s because they never even received the summons. For others it’s prohibitively expensive to forgo that day’s wages or to pay for childcare. And for others it’s a mistaken belief that a prior conviction precludes participation.”

Indeed, there have been a few studies on juries done in Washington already for the past few years on juries and why so few minorities participate. On one report analyzing data based on a 2016 and 2017 study conducted by the Seattle University, associate professor Peter A. Collins and assistant professor Brooke Gialopsos wrote: “There are clear patterns across all courts included in the present study that indicate that marginalized groups, in particular women of color, experience significant hurdles to participate in the jury process. Populations who experience multiple oppressions, such as those who identify as LGBTQ+, gender, and persons of color experience even more obstacles to participate.”

Thanks to these researchers and the symposium, solutions were sure to follow.

The MJC was asked by Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst to explore the recommendations set forth at the symposium. MJC created the Jury Diversity Task Force whose objective is to “examine a range of policy proposals that might have the effect of increasing minority representation on Washington State juries, and make recommendations to MJC about which approaches, if any, to pursue.”

In their 2019 Interim Report, the task force outlined many recommendations. Below are their highest priority suggestions:

  • Expanding the jury source list beyond registered voters and driver’s license & state ID card holders and updating the list more frequently.
  • Increasing juror compensation and researching feasibility of tax credits or deductions for service.
  • Providing childcare for potential jurors.
  • Pursuing a statutory amendment to define the phrase “civil rights restored” in RCW 2.36.070 and creating an education campaign targeted to courts to update wording of
    their juror qualification questionnaires to clarify that individuals with felony convictions are allowed to serve on the jury (unless under DOC supervision).
  • Streamlining the jury summons and follow-up process.
  • Collecting jury demographic data.

Over time, these efforts are sure to alleviate the racial disparities within jury pools and help ensure that defendants are judged fairly and by a truly “representative cross-section” of the community.

For more information on this topic, please read this article: “Juries have a diversity problem. What’s being done to address it in Washington state?” by Alexis Krell.


Prosecutorial Misconduct Leads to New Trial for WAP Client

April 5, 2021 – Court of Appeals Division II reverses a second-degree murder conviction due to repeated ‘ill-intentioned’ misconducts by the prosecutor.

A new trial awaits a man who was accused of killing his mother in 2018 in their Tacoma home.

Client Sebastian Levy-Aldrete argued on appeal that he did not receive a fair trial due to numerous instances of misconduct by the Pierce county prosecutor, and the Court agreed on Tuesday.
“The cumulative effect of these repeated instances of misconduct were substantially likely to have affected the verdict,” Judge Lisa Sutton wrote in the opinion. “Thus, we hold that Levy-Aldrete has met his burden to show reversible prosecutorial misconduct.”

His attorney, Richard Lechich, points out prior cases wherein misconduct was involved within Pierce County, stating that “the previous prosecutor and their office had this reputation.”

To read more on this topic, please visit the following article by The News Tribune.

COVID-19: Lawsuit Fights for Immediate Access to Vaccine for Those in DOC custody

April 2, 2021 – Lawsuit filed by incarcerated individuals also demands that DOC provide accurate information about the COVID vaccine and to protect those incarcerated from staff who refuse to take the vaccine.

Petitioners Candis Rush, Justin Autrey, and Gregory Steen filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC), citing abysmal conditions for those in DOC custody and the department’s refusal to provide vaccines. The lawsuit demands that the Department of Health (DOH) and DOC take action immediately and provide vaccine access for those incarcerated.

In their press release, Columbia Legal Services (CLS) writes that merely allocating doses is not a sufficient solution. Other problems such as increased distrust between staff and residents due to DOC prioritizing vaccines for staff as well as preventing those incarcerated from receiving any information or news about the vaccine are all contributing to the increased risk.  “It is imperative that the DOH, and DOC partner not only with each other, but also engage with authentic, respected voices in the community to help spread accurate information and build trust around the vaccine and DOC’s ability to properly administer it,” said Tony Gonzalez, the CLS attorney who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

To learn more about the lawsuit and CLS’s advocacy efforts, please read the CLS press release.