Washington State Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty - Hit & Run

  • Washington State Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty - Hit & Run

Washington State Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty - Hit & Run

Citing racial bias and arbitrary application, the Supreme Court of Washington on Thursday ruled that the use of capital punishment violates the state's Constitution, a decision that will ban the use of the death penalty going forward and immediately commuted the sentences of death-row inmates to life terms.

The monumental ruling by the Washington State Supreme court to abolish the death penalty came down to race.

"It is now apparent that Washington's death penalty is administered in an arbitrary and racially biased manner", Fairhurst wrote.

The news is welcome, but not particularly surprising. No executions have been allowed in Washington since early 2014 under an order from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said that a key understanding from the Supreme Court's ruling is that the death penalty was unconstitutional because of how it was applied in the state.

Allen Eugene Gregory, 45, was sentenced to die for the rape and murder of Geneine Harshfield in Tacoma.

"Racial bias, conscious or unconscious, 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", he said.

And the justices said black defendants are more than four times as likely to receive the death penalty as white defendants for the same crimes.

"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.

"The court makes it perfectly clear that capital punishment in our state has been imposed in an "arbitrary and racially biased manner, ' is 'unequally applied" and serves no criminal justice goal", the statement said.

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.

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

The state Department of Corrections reports that 78 men, and no women, have been executed in Washington since 1904, the most recent in 2010.

Advocates for capital punishment argue it should be available for those who commit the worst crimes. "Next session, I will again propose legislation repealing the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole".

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

Inslee said he would sign a bill that abolished the death penalty if the Legislature sent him one, and veto any attempt by lawmakers to reinstate it.

In its ruling Thursday, the high court did not reconsider any of Gregory's arguments pertaining to guilty, noting that his conviction for aggravated first degree murder "has already been appealed and affirmed by this court".

According to the Death Penalty Information Center the ruling directly affects eight people on the state's death row.