April 20, 2023 – After five years since the Washington Supreme Court ruled the death penalty as unconstitutional, Governor Inslee signed the bill this Thursday afternoon striking the death penalty language from state law.
“It’s official,” Inslee proclaims on Twitter. “The death penalty is no longer in state law. In 2014 I issued a moratorium. In 2018 the state Supreme Court deemed the death penalty unconstitutional. Now in 2023, passage of SB 5087 strikes it entirely from our statutes.”
In 2018, Supreme Court ruled in the famous State v. Gregory case that Washington’s death penalty was unconstitutional. WAP Attorney Lila J. Silverstein and Attorney Neil Fox, both of whom represented Mr. Gregory on appeal, were invited to the signing of SB 5087.
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.