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Appellate judge lambasts rampant racial bigotry in Spokane case

May 23, 2023 – Chief Judge George B. Fearing of the Court of Appeals Division III criticized colleagues, called out police racism and denounced prejudiced prosecutors in an opinion released in State v. Vaile, a 2019 case about a Black man who allegedly kissed a white woman without consent at a restaurant in Spokane County.

Vaile was not charged with a crime for the kiss. Instead, Vaile faced two charges of felony assault and a charge for resisting arrest. Vaile was acquitted on the assault charges, but the jury found him guilty of resisting arrest. WAP attorney Lila J. Silverstein represented Vaile on his appeal.

The appellate judges agreed in the opinion that the trial judge improperly excluded evidence, specifically audio from a cellphone recording of Vaile’s arrest that seemed to indicate he was cooperating. All judges agreed that they must reverse the conviction for resisting arrest. However, Fearing dissented from his colleagues, expressing the necessity of seeing the color bias and prejudice suffered by Vaile alongside the evidentiary issues, and calling for direct dismissal of the charge based on race-based government misconduct. “Racial bigotry permeates the case beginning with [the] call to 911 and ending with the State attorney’s summation to the jury,” Fearing writes. He further calls out his colleagues on what he writes as “the refusal to expose and remedy endemic racist bias” that occured in the case.

Indeed, as Judge Fearing examined, many racist tropes were at play in this case, from the white woman calling the police about an “angry Black man”, to the extreme and violent response from the police involving 6-8 cop cars at the scene, the charges of resisting arrest slapped on, and racial innuendos from the Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell whose wife freely used slurs and declared herself a “proud white nationalist.

This Seattle Times article goes into further detail regarding the case and Fearing’s dissent, and is well worth a read.

Death penalty eliminated from Washington State statute

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.”

Governor Inslee signs Substitute Senate Bill No. 5087, April 20, 2023. Relating to removing language from the Revised Code of Washington that has been identified by the justices of the supreme court or judges of the superior courts as defects and omissions in the laws pursuant to Article IV, section 25 of the Washington state Constitution.
Primary Sponsor: Sen. Pedersen

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.


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.