Washington State Overturns the Death Penalty

On October 11, Washington  became the 20th U.S. state to overturn capital punishment. The State Supreme Court said that evidence made it clear that the state’s death penalty scheme lacked “fundamental fairness.”

The ruling also commuted the sentences of the eight people currently on Washington’s death row. They will now face life in prison.

Hopefully the state won’t follow the lead of Nebraska, which repealed the death penalty in 2015 — only to reinstate it in 2016.

The Washington ruling came in the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, a black man who was convicted in 1996 of raping, robbing and killing a waitress named Geneine Harshfield. Gregory was sentenced to death in 2001.

A five-member majority on the Court did not actually say the death penalty was wrong, but rather that it had been “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” The four other justices agreed with this conclusion in a separate decision.

“We are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance,” stated the majority’s decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which submitted the amicus brief urging the Court to strike down the state’s death penalty system, has some numbers to substantiate this claim. The group notes that African Americans make up 42 percent of Washington’s death row, but only 13 percent of the state’s population. Furthermore, the state’s black defendants are four-and-a-half times more likely than white defendants to be sentenced to death.

While we can celebrate Washington’s decision to strike down the death penalty, capital punishment is still legal in 30 U.S. states

But as The New York Times points out:

The number of death sentences actually imposed has steadily fallen since a peak in 1999, when there were 98 executions across the nation, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In 2017, there were 23. Only 10 states, including Texas, Ohio and Florida have carried out any executions since 2014.

Over the past 15 years, seven states have struck down the death penalty through legislation or court order: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Meanwhile, Colorado, Oregon and Pennsylvania have adopted moratoriums.

That’s good news, but the government does not have the right to take a person’s life. The death penalty is wrong. Here are five compelling reasons to end the death penalty now, adapted from Death Penalty Focus:

  1. The wrongful execution of an innocent person can never be rectified. This is not an idle question. Since 1973, 151 people sent to death row in the U.S. have been exonerated. Others have been put to death despite strong doubts about their guilt.
  2. More than 139 countries worldwide — including the majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America — have abandoned the death penalty.
  3. As we have seen in the case of Washington, people of color and poor people are sentenced to death at disproportionately higher rates.
  4. Studies have consistently failed to demonstrate that the death penalty deters people from committing crime any more than does a long prison sentence.
  5.  It costs far more to execute someone than to give him or her a life sentence. Take California, which has the largest population of incarcerated people waiting to die in the U.S. Here, taxpayers spend $150 million every year to keep 726 men and 21 women on death row. The state has executed 13 people since 1978 and no one in the last decade.

The only way to fix these problems is to end the death penalty across the U.S. Thank you, Washington, for leading the way!

Photo Credit: Zhifei Zhou/Unsplash

39 comments

Tabot T
Tabot T5 days ago

Thanks

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Ann B
Ann B15 days ago

i will never sign this petition many commit HORRID crimes against women children and animals and they deserve more than a jail cell for the rest of their life

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Colin C
Colin C16 days ago

Good for Washington.

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Chad A
Chad Anderson20 days ago

Thank you.

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Irene S
Irene S22 days ago

What a great sign in times when undifferentiated hatred and violence seem to spread all over the world. I hope other states will follow!

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Janis K
Janis K25 days ago

Good news!

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Leo C
Leo C25 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Janis K
Janis K26 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Danuta W
Danuta Watola26 days ago

Thanks for posting

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Jack Y
Jack Y26 days ago

thanks

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