Abolish the death penalty now
Abolish the death penalty now

Wash­ing­ton took a huge leap for­ward for human rights this morn­ing with the State Supreme Court’s rul­ing in State v. Gre­go­ry, which holds that the death penal­ty is “invalid because it is imposed in an arbi­trary and racial­ly biased manner.”

“Pur­suant to RCW 10.95.090, ‘if the death penal­ty estab­lished by this chap­ter is held to be invalid by a final judg­ment of a court which is bind­ing on all courts in the state, the sen­tence for aggra­vat­ed first degree mur­der … shall be life impris­on­ment.’ All death sen­tences are here­by con­vert­ed to life impris­on­ment,” the Court ruled.

A short time ago, NPI pub­lished a press release respond­ing to the rul­ing. In that press release, I laud­ed the rul­ing as a tremen­dous vic­to­ry for justice.

As I said: “Free­dom, pros­per­i­ty, tol­er­ance, oppor­tu­ni­ty, and fair­ness are val­ues we cher­ish here in the Pacif­ic North­west. A state-run death cham­ber is incom­pat­i­ble with those val­ues. We know the death penal­ty does­n’t deter crime, or bring clo­sure, or serve any use­ful pur­pose what­so­ev­er. We are incred­i­bly thank­ful that today, Wash­ing­ton is join­ing the world’s oth­er devel­oped soci­eties in renounc­ing the bar­bar­ic, anti­quat­ed prac­tice of exe­cut­ing peo­ple. This is a tremen­dous vic­to­ry for jus­tice and human rights that we will be cel­e­brat­ing for a long time.”

Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee also cel­e­brat­ed the Court’s ruling.

“Today’s deci­sion by the state Supreme Court thank­ful­ly ends the death penal­ty in Wash­ing­ton,” the Gov­er­nor 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. This is a huge­ly impor­tant moment in our pur­suit for equal and fair appli­ca­tion of justice.”

In 2014, Gov­er­nor Inslee declared a mora­to­ri­um on exe­cu­tions, pre­vent­ing any­one from being exe­cut­ed while he is in office. The Supreme Court has just made his mora­to­ri­um per­ma­nent, con­vert­ing all death sen­tences to life imprisonment.

There is more work to do.

“Even though the Supreme Court has end­ed the death penal­ty in Wash­ing­ton, the Leg­is­la­ture still needs to wipe this dis­grace­ful statute off our books,” I explained in NPI’s press release. “RCWs don’t get changed when the Supreme Court ren­ders a ver­dict, despite what peo­ple might imag­ine would hap­pen fol­low­ing a rul­ing like this. The Leg­is­la­ture has an oblig­a­tion in 2019 to affirm that we are a state that val­ues jus­tice and will nev­er again exe­cute anyone.”

State Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son is thank­ful­ly ready to con­tin­ue the effort to wipe out Wash­ing­ton State’s now invalid death penal­ty statute.

“Washington’s Supreme Court issued an impor­tant deci­sion today,” said Fer­gu­son. “The Court rec­og­nized that Wash­ing­ton state’s death penal­ty is bro­ken. We should act quick­ly to remove the death penal­ty from state law once and for all. Next ses­sion, I will again pro­pose leg­is­la­tion repeal­ing the death penal­ty, replac­ing it with life in prison with­out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole.”

“It is a pro­found state­ment when every mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton Supreme Court agrees that the death penal­ty is arbi­trary, infect­ed with racial bias, and must end,” said Kath­leen Tay­lor, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the ACLU of Washington.

“We thank the scores of for­mer and retired judges, reli­gious lead­ers, and vic­tims’ fam­i­lies who joined the ACLU brief in the case,” Tay­lor added.

“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,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Direc­tor Jef­fery Robin­son. “That dis­par­i­ty can be described by many words — but jus­tice is not one of them.”

In July, Fer­gu­son joined NPI and five state leg­is­la­tors (State Sen­a­tors Man­ka Dhin­gra and Jamie Ped­er­sen, plus State Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Lau­rie Jink­ins, Roger Good­man, and Gael Tar­leton) to unveil NPI’s find­ing that 69% of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans pre­fer life in prison alter­na­tives to the death penal­ty. Our ground­break­ing find­ing demon­strat­ed that the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton were and are ready for abolition.

And today, abo­li­tion is the law of the land in Wash­ing­ton. Hallelujah!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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