Siwatu-Salama Ra's criminal convictions reversed in court of appeals

click to enlarge Siwatu-Salama Ra and one of her daughters. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Siwatu-Salama Ra and one of her daughters.

Siwatu-Salama Ra — the Detroit activist who was forced to give birth in jail last year after she was sentenced to prison for brandishing a registered, unloaded firearm to defend herself — had her felonious assault and firearm convictions reversed by the Michigan Court of Appeals on Tuesday, according to the offices of her attorney, Wade Fink. It's the latest chapter in a case that drew local and national attention, including outcry from the National Rifle Association.

Ra's sentence stemmed from a 2017 altercation in which Ra used the unloaded firearm to defend herself, her 2-year-old daughter, and her unborn son during an argument with Chanell Harvey, the mother of a schoolmate of Ra's niece, who allegedly tried to use her car as a "battering ram" to threaten Ra. The other woman drove off and went to Detroit Police, and Ra was later charged with assault and a felony firearm conviction, which carries a mandatory minimum two-year sentence. A judge denied Ra's requests for a delayed sentencing so she could give birth, and Ra was forced to give birth to her son while wearing ankle shackles.
Ra's attorney Fink called the trial a "parade of errors" from the start, filing an appeal in late 2018 contending that Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Hathaway should have had the jury consider Ra's brandishing of an unloaded gun as a use of nondeadly force, rather than deadly force. He also argued that her trial attorney should have been allowed to cross-examine Harvey, who was on probation for felony assault and faced prison or jail time if convicted of another assault.

On Tuesday, a panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously reversed Ra's conviction, stating that "the trial court’s failure to give the jury instruction regarding the use of nondeadly force in self-defense was erroneous" and that the failure of the trial court to give such an instruction "probabl[y] affected the outcome of the case."
The case now heads to the Wayne County Circuit Court, where prosecutors will decide whether to pursue a second trial.

"[T]his is huge victory for the criminal justice system," Fink said in a press release. "Siwatu acted in self-defense and if this case is brought again, we intend to prove it — this time in a fair trial where Siwatu is permitted to present a defense."

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland “Lee” DeVito is the editor in chief of Detroit Metro Times since 2016. His writing has also been published in CREEM, VICE, In These Times, and New City. He once asked porn star Stormy Daniels to spank him with an issue of Metro Times. She obliged.

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