October 12, 2018
In 2014, Washington Governor Jay Inslee ordered a moratorium on that state’s death penalty. Yesterday, the Washington Supreme Court rejected the death penalty entirely, holding that it violated the state’s constitution’s prohibition on “cruel punishment.”
Specifically, the court found that the death penalty was invalid “because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” citing a study that established that African-American defendants were more than four times as likely as white defendants to be sentenced to death. That study, which evaluated all of Washington’s aggravated murder cases since 1981, concluded that there was “strong, consistent and compelling evidence that jury decision-making in capital cases in Washington State has been notably influenced by the race of the defendant.”
In an opinion written by Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, the court acknowledged it had previously upheld the death penalty, but it ruled that in light of this new information about the administration of capital punishment, “the death penalty lacks fundamental fairness.” Justice Fairhurst explained, “There is no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which the death penalty is imposed from the many cases in which it is not. To the extent that race distinguishes the cases, it is clearly impermissible and unconstitutional.”
There were eight men on Washington’s death row. Washington becomes the 20th state to outlaw capital punishment.
According to Wikipedia, of the countries categorized as ‘very high’ on the Human Development Index, only ten countries retain the death penalty. The U.S. in the only one in the western hemisphere, and Belarus is the only one in Europe.