Sunday, November 19, 2017
The question was: does a jury need to know a person's immigration status? The Supreme Court of Washington answered No! In most civil and criminal cases, the court found the information to be inadmissible. The court's creation of a new evidentiary rule addresses the bias that influences decision making when the finder of fact hears irrelevant information on immigration status. There are some exceptions but by and large status information will not be part of the record.
The case in question was a mini-bias exercise. Carpenter Alex Salas was injured on the job. In case no. 1 the jury found his employer to have been negligent and found for plaintiff Salas. Trouble came when the jury awarded no damages. After appeal the case came back for re-trial and the next jury awarded Mr. Salas $2.6 million. The evidence submitted at each trial was the same with an exception - the first jury heard evidence that Mr. Salas was in the country without legal status. The second jury never heard that information.
The appeal that followed the first trial was a precursor of the recent opinion. That decision found that the judge had abused discretion and led to the creation of a new rule of evidence - number 423 - Immigration. The rule excludes evidence of status in civil and criminal cases with narrow exceptions, such as when status is relevant to the crime or the case.
Washington is the first state to create an evidentiary rule on this issue. This rule will be a relief to immigrants in a variety of cases. I particularly think of abused immigrant women who consistently face bias in custody decisions when the court is convinced that even the possible threat of deportation warrants an award of custody to the abusive father. A myriad of other litigants will benefit from this discovery restriction. This is a wonderful opportunity for advocacy to all other US jurisdictions to equalize justice for immigrants through adoption of a comparable rule.