Shahin Farokhrany is Iranian, and in 2009 allegedly supplied cocaine to two high school girls before trying to have oral sex with one of them in his Washington County apartment.
The latter part got Farokhrany convicted on a bevy of felony charges. His nationality has earned him a new trial.
The Oregon Court of Appeals today ruled [pdf] a Washington County prosecutor in Farokhrany's case probably improperly influenced the jury by suggesting the man might have been influenced by Sharia—the religious law of Islam—in committing the crimes, and the trial judge should have corrected the matter.
Evidence presented in the case suggests Farokhrany, in June 2009, gave one of the girls $120 for cocaine, and later invited the pair back to his apartment. He worked at Home Depot, and one of the girls was apparently an "intern" at Home Depot(?). Anyway, they did the coke, and Farokhrany began playing Internet porn before isolating one of the girls and pressuring her into sex acts. She refused, he grabbed her breast, and the girls left.
Straightforward enough, except that during jury selection, a prosecutor—in quizzing jurors whether they'd be swayed by the testimony of a single witness—mentioned an instance of Sharia law "out of either Iran or Saudi Arabia" in which a victim was required to provide five male witnesses to prove her rape (yikes).
A defense attorney argued the comments could prejudice jurors against Farokhrany—whose name, at least, might suggest Muslim origins. The defense wanted Washington County Circuit Judge Rick Knapp to instruct jurors to disregard the Sharia talk. The prosecutor said he used the same example on all sex abuse cases, regardless of defendant. The judge declined to correct the matter.
The court of appeals says that's a problem.
"The example of Sharia law used by the prosecutor may have suggested to the potential jurors that men from countries that follow Sharia law feel free to commit sexual offenses, as long as the requisite number of witnesses are not present," the court ruled. "We cannot overlook the fact that one likely effect of the prosecutor's comments was to call the jurors' attention to defendant's ancestry and entice the jurors to consider more than the evidence in arriving at a verdict— to also consider defendant's ancestry and religion—matters that many Americans view negatively."
"In the end," the court said,"regardless of the prosecutor's motivation in making such comments, this court simply cannot tolerate conduct, blatant or subtle, that even borders on an attempt to introduce, at any stage of a trial, issues of racial, ethnic or religious bias.”
Bottom line: The judge should have acted. Farokhrany gets another shot.
It's worth noting that Senior Judge Paul De Muniz, who authored the ruling, is something of an ethnic trailblazer in Oregon courts. He was both the first Hispanic justice and chief justice on the Oregon Supreme Court. De Muniz retired from the court earlier this year, but is serving as a temporary judge on the court of appeals.