Washington Governor Suspends Death Penalty, Citing ‘Too Many Flaws in the System’

Written by Nicole Flatow

Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in his state Tuesday, citing the fundamental inequality of the punishment’s imposition. He said he will issue a reprieve from the penalty in any death penalty case that comes to his desk for action. In a speech Tuesday he said:

Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served.

The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred. Let me acknowledge that there are many good protections built into Washington State’s death penalty law.

But there have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment. There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.

The death penalty has long been associated with racial bias. Since 1976, the vast majority of executions for interracial murders have involved crimes with a black defendant and a white victim. And in Texas, courts continue to reject a new sentencing hearing for an African American death row inmate whose initial hearing featured testimony by a psychologist that blacks are more likely to commit crimes.

Inslee’s observation that the punishment also differs from county to county echoes a recent Death Penalty Information Center report that found just two percent of counties perform the majority of U.S. executions.

Imposing the death penalty is also becoming increasingly difficult logistically, as international opposition has created a shortage of drugs for lethal injections, and states experiment with other controversial alternatives.

In May, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) also expressed his uncertainty over the death penalty when he granted an indefinite reprieve to a death row inmate who was about to be executed. “It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives,” he said. “Because the question is about the use of the death penalty itself, and not about Offender No. 89148, I have opted to grant a reprieve and not clemency in this case.” And in 2011, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber also imposed a moratorium. Several other states have de facto moratoria due to court rulings invalidating particular death penalty procedures. And 18 states have banned the death penalty outright. Last year, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to impose a ban.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Dominic C.
Dominic C4 years ago

Thank you Gov. Your actions on this are commendable. But Gov., its time WA should abolish the death penalty and make sentencing options tough on crime and punishment.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K4 years ago

Wanda: I didn't say people on death row, I said people duly convicted of murder. Get your reading hat on there, sister! The death penalty is unevenly applied in this country, so a first degree murder conviction is a great deal more likely to land you on death row in say, Texas, than it will in New York - heck, in TX, there doesn't even need to have been a crime in the first place, as Todd Willingham found out.

Thanks for sharing your stories about people who are angry at their criminal justice system because they let dangerous criminals out to reoffend, What part of "life without parole" did you not understand?

I notice you didn't address anything else I said, so I'll assume that you agree that capitol cases are a huge waste of taxpayer dollars and that the existence of the death penalty causes us unnecessary problems with international partners and leaves us in embarrassing company.

Donna F.
Donna F4 years ago

very good news.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B4 years ago

Good news. In a so-called "civilised" country, I think the U.S is so wrong on having the death penalty. Get out of the "dark" ages - this is the 21st century!

Martha Ferris
Martha Ferris4 years ago

I believe we should eliminate the death penalty but also change our laws to reflect penalties that take into account the seriousness of the crime. Why should someone who took another's life or damaged someone irreparably be allowed to resume their lives after only a few years of served punishment?

Wanda Bagram
Past Member 4 years ago

CathleenK.- For as much as you are on a role there and I applaud your zeal, your number are way off!

Since 1989, DNA evidence has exonerated a grand total of 18 people on death row US wide, NOT hundreds as you claimed. It also exonerated another 16 were charged with capital crimes but not sentenced to death.

Also, keep in mind that the Governor in this article points out that Capital Punishment is an imperfect system but at no time does it mention that the reality is the Entire system, not just Capital Punishment, is imperfect but it is a work in progress.

I have several friends in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Panama that wished they did have Capital Punishment because laws have become so lenient that law abiding elderly & small children pay the price with their lives at the hands of ruthless criminals who are just set free to kill again.

No system is perfect and to call someone an idiot because they prefer capital punishment opens the door for someone else to call you the same for not wanting capital punishment.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago

Stars for Cathleen K.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago

Soooo impressed with this state!

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K4 years ago

For all you bloodthirsty idiots yearning to live in states where they apply the death penalty with abandon, just remember that since DNA evidence became available, hundreds of people, duly convicted of murder, have been exonerated, and that they represent the tip of the iceberg, since the Innocence Project can't get to everybody.

Does your state have money to burn? If not, a great way to cut costs is by eliminating the death penalty and replacing it with life without parole, since it's MUCH cheaper to lock someone up for 50 years than it is to prosecute a capitol case from start to finish.

Don't you just love that Get Out of Jail Free card in Monopoly? I know you do, because you want to hand them to any fugitive who could potentially be charged with a capitol offense that can get across a US border! Since all of the civilized world, and most of the third world, has banned the death penalty, they cannot honor their extradition treaties with the US if there is any chance, no matter how small, that the person could be put to death. And really, how hard is it to get across the border?

Lastly, are you sure you want to belong to a club that basically consists of the Islamic world and North Korea?

Geoff P.
Geoff P4 years ago

We don't have it in NZ but it some cases their is a need for it