Washington Supreme Court tosses out state’s death penalty

12 October, 2018, 11:41 | Author: Wade Massey
  • The execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary is shown in 2008. The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the death penalty violates its Constitution

Washington's Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state's death penalty Thursday, ruling that it had been used in an arbitrary and racially discriminatory manner.

Though the Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional as it's been applied in Washington state, it didn't rule that it's fundamentally unconstitutional, so some legislatures still want to pass a bill.

"The court has affirmed that the Washington death penalty system has been arbitrarily and racially biased", Governor Inslee said.

Four other justices on the bench, in a concurrence, wrote that while they agreed with the majority's conclusions and invalidation of the death penalty, "additional state constitutional principles compel this result". "When the ultimate decision is death", he said in his official statement, "there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system".

After the court decision, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee tweeted, "Equal justice is a hallmark of democracy and assuring equal justice is the state's responsibility".

"The death penalty, as administered in our state, fails to serve any legitimate penological goal", the court said. It joins Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, in banning the practice.

The ruling was made in the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, who was convicted of raping and murdering a woman, Geneine Harshfield, 46, in 1996.

The Supreme Court later overturned some of the rape convictions and ordered a new sentencing, and a new jury again sentenced him to death. The ruling Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, makes Washington the latest state to do away with capital punishment.

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The report "said race didn't appear to influence whether prosecutors sought the death penalty, but it was a factor in whether juries imposed a death sentence", as NPR member station KUOW reported.

"There is nothing unique about the role racism played in Washington's death penalty".

Of the 30 states in which capital punishment is still legal, there have been no executions in 16 of them since 1976.

Advocates for capital punishment argue it should be available for those who commit the worst crimes.

As of a year ago, we had 8 people on death row, according to the LA Times, but Gov. Inslee said he wouldn't execute them.

Earlier this year, the state Senate passed a measure abolishing the death penalty, but the House didn't pass it.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said that he plans to ask the Legislature to move next session to take the death penalty law off the books, something Inslee said he'd sign.

The concerns cited in those states have ranged from procedural matters, such as the information provided to sentencing jurors in NY, to worries about executing an innocent person or racial and other disparities in who is sentenced to death, as was the case in Washington. Reuven Carlyle, who had been a sponsor of those previous attempts, said in a text message. "That has to do with some counties not being able to afford death penalty cases".

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