Monday, June 20, 2011

Prosecutor's Comments Questioned

The Washington State Supreme Court overturned a conviction this month because of the white prosecutor's remarks that black witnesses had not testified against the black defendant because of a purported code that "black folk don't testify against black folk." State v. Monday, No. 82736-2 (June 29, 2011), links to opinions on court's website: majority, concurrence, dissent. See Jennifer Sullivan, Seattle murder conviction tossed out over 'racist' comments, Seattle Times, June 9, 2011.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg wrote a guest editorial apologizing for the comments. 'No-snitch' argument untrue, damaging to trust in law enforcement, June 16, 2011.

This statement is untrue and offensive. We know from experience that the "no snitch" ethic is not confined to any particular race or background. We see it commonly across a wide range of cases that we handle. On the other hand, we also see witnesses of all races and backgrounds participate fully in the criminal-justice system, fulfilling an important civic duty that keeps us all safe and protects our constitutional rights.

Compounding the error, the statement has the unfortunate and ironic effect of further eroding trust in the criminal-justice system. By decrying the "no snitch" ethic in this manner, the senior deputy prosecutor created yet another reason for some to believe that our justice system is biased and racist.

Now an appeal is arguing that the same deputy prosecutor (James Konat) made inappropriate comments in his closing argument in the trial of Sebastian Burns who was convicted with Atif Rafay of killing Rafay's parents and sister. Konat said that the crime was worse than a Middle East beheading of a U.S. citizen, a comparison the brief argues was an appeal to nationalism and prejudice. Prosecutor's comments cited in call for new Sebastian Burns trial | Seattle Times Newspaper, June 20, 2011.

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