Friday, 19 October, 2018

Washington state abolishes death penalty

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 Supreme Court tosses out state's death penalty
Steven Clarke | 12 October, 2018, 11:43

In a rare bit of good news during an otherwise relentlessly bad news cycle, the Washington State Supreme Court has just struck down the state's death penalty, citing racial bias.

"Given the evidence before this court and our judicial notice of implicit and overt racial bias against black defendants in this state, we are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance", the justices said in their ruling. The justices said the "death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially" and they ordered the people now on death row have their sentences converted to life in prison.

The news is welcome, but not particularly surprising.

In the past 15 years, seven states - Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and NY - have abandoned capital punishment through court order or legislative act, and three - Colorado, Oregon and Pennsylvania - have adopted moratoriums.

Washington State has only carried out five executions since 1976 and Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, declared a moratorium on executions in 2014. "When the ultimate decision is death", he said in his official statement, "there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system".

The case was brought by Allen Gregory, sentenced to death for the 1996 rape and murder of 43-year-old Geneine Harshfield in her home in Tacoma.

"Today's decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington".

"For example, an African American in our state is 4.5 times more likely to receive the death penalty for committing the same crime as a white person", McKenna said.

"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.

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"The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner", the decision reads.

Thirty states and the federal government provide for the imposition of death as a sentence for some homicides.

Of the 30 states in which capital punishment is still legal, there have been no executions in 16 of them since 1976. Among them was former Justice Faith Ireland, who sided with the narrow majority in upholding capital punishment in 2006.

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

At the same time, they didn't completely rule out the state imposing the death penalty again in the future.

Washington, where there have been no executions since 2010, becomes the 20th state in which executions are banned.

Dunham said it was important that the ruling was based on the facts of Washington's use of capital punishment.

The justices declined to revisit Gregory's conviction for aggravated first-degree murder, saying that it "has already been appealed and affirmed by this court".

As of past year, we had 8 people on death row, according to the LA Times, but Gov. Inslee said he wouldn't execute them. Reuven Carlyle, who had been a sponsor of those previous attempts, said in a text message.

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