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!