Washington State Supreme Court Abolishes Death Penalty

A gurney inside a lethal injection chamber is seen in a file

A gurney inside a lethal injection chamber is seen in a file

The ruling did leave open the possibility for the death penalty to return in Washington state: "The legislature may enact a "carefully drafted statute".to impose capital punishment in this state, but it can not create a system that offends. constitutional rights".

The ruling Thursday makes Washington the 20th state to do away with capital punishment by legislative act or court decree.

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

The news is welcome, but not particularly surprising.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee had already placed a moratorium on executions in 2014.

Following the supreme court ruling, Inslee released a statement calling the ruling a "hugely important moment" in the pursuit of "equal and fair application of justice". But, the court found, "the death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner", and thereby runs afoul of the state's constitution. 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 followed arguments against the death penalty on behalf of Allen Eugene Gregory, who was convicted of raping, robbing and killing 43-year-old Geneine Harshfield in 1996 in Tacoma, Washington.

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle said the court decision provides "unstoppable" momentum to finally pass legislation eliminating the death penalty from state law.

Noting that both conscious and unconscious racial bias "plays a role in the death penalty decisions across America, influencing who faces this ultimate punishment, who sits on the jury, what kind of victim impact and mitigation evidence is used, and who is given life or death", Robinson said that this kind of "disparity can be described by many words - but justice is not one of them".

Opponents of the death penalty, such as the ACLU, are cheering the decision.

Ferguson said he will ask the 2019 Legislature to "take the final step" and abolish the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without parole.

The eight people now on death row in the north-western state immediately had their sentences commuted to life.

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

The justices said that the study showed that from 1981 through May 2014, black defendants were 3.5 to 4.6 times as likely to be sentenced to death than other defendants. Washington has executed 78 people since 1904, all men, but no one since 2010.

"We leave open the possibility that the legislature may enact a "carefully drafted statute" to impose capital punishment in this state, but it can not create a system that offends constitutional rights", the opinion said.

Former congressional candidate Jason Rittereiser would also like everyone to know that he invented the idea of abolishing the death penalty. A jury imposed the death penalty in about 30 of those cases.

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