State v. Deleon – Gang Affiliations

06 Jul State v. Deleon – Gang Affiliations

The Washington Supreme Court heard a case in which defendants were forced to choose between making incriminating statements and facing physical violence. The case centered around a drive-by shooting in which three defendants were ultimately charged with first degree assault while armed with a firearm with an intent to benefit a criminal street gang. After arrest the three defendants went through the booking process at the Sunnyside jail. This booking process included a “gang documentation” form that would be filled out only if the individual cannot be safely housed with someone else. During this process the defendants indicated affiliation with the Nortenos; meaning they could not be housed safely with Sureno affiliated inmates. The trial court allowed the defendant’s statements about their gang affiliations to be admitted during trial.

The Supreme Court held that the gang information from the jail booking process was not gathered voluntarily and therefore should not have been admitted at trial. The court found that there is a very real risk of violence and that is the basis for asking these questions at booking and under these circumstances the statements the defendants made were coerced and involuntary. The court reversed the convictions and remanded for the case for a new trial on the basis that the admission of these statements at trial was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.