Subscribe to SIAWI content updates by Email
Home > Uncategorised > USA: Washington State Strikes Down Death Penalty, Citing Racial (...)

USA: Washington State Strikes Down Death Penalty, Citing Racial Bias

Saturday 13 October 2018, by siawi3

Source: https://www.npr.org/2018/10/11/656570464/washington-state-strikes-down-death-penalty-citing-racial-bias?t=1539354664259

Washington State Strikes Down Death Penalty, Citing Racial Bias

October 11, 20185:13 PM ET

Merrit Kennedy

“We are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance,” the state’s supreme court justices wrote in a majority opinion.
Ted S. Warren/AP

The Washington Supreme Court has struck down the state’s death penalty, saying that it is imposed arbitrarily and with racial bias.

“We are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance,” the justices wrote in a majority opinion.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington in 2014, and on Thursday he called the opinion a “hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”

Thursday’s ruling makes Washington the 20th state to abolish capital punishment. According to the ACLU, this state supreme court is the third to do so citing concerns about racial disparities, along with Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Also: Nebraska Carries Out 1st Execution Using Fentanyl In U.S.

The court decided to convert Washington’s current death sentences to life imprisonment. The state’s corrections division says that there are eight people currently on death row.

This case was prompted by one of those inmates, Allen Eugene Gregory, who was found guilty of the 1996 aggravated first-degree murder of a woman. Gregory argued that the death penalty in Washington is “unequally applied,” and the justices agreed with him.

According to the opinion, the convicted murderer commissioned a study of racial bias and the death penalty that found “black defendants were four and a half times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants.”

Also: Religion - Catholic Church Now Formally Opposes Death Penalty In All Cases

The report “said race didn’t appear to influence whether prosecutors sought the death penalty, but it was a factor in whether juries imposed a death sentence,” as NPR member station KUOW reported.

The state disputed the study’s claims, but ultimately the justices said they afforded “great weight” to its conclusions.

They also said that even though the purposes of the death penalty are “retribution and deterrence of capital crimes by prospective offenders,” capital punishment fails to serve these goals as it is currently applied in the state.

At the same time, they didn’t completely rule out the state imposing the death penalty again in the future.

“We leave open the possibility that the legislature may enact a ’carefully drafted statute’ ... to impose capital punishment in this state, but it cannot create a system that offends constitutional rights,” the majority opinion states. A concurring opinion also supported invalidating the death penalty, but for different reasoning.

The justices declined to revisit Gregory’s conviction for aggravated first-degree murder, saying that it "has already been appealed and affirmed by this court.

Also: Oklahoma Plans To Use Nitrogen For Executions
The Two-Way

Opponents of the death penalty, such as the ACLU, are cheering the decision.

“There is nothing unique about the role racism played in Washington’s death penalty,” said Jeff Robinson, the deputy legal director and director of the Trone Center for Justice at the ACLU.

“What is rare is the Supreme Court’s willingness to call out the truth that has always been there. ... 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.

KUOW reported that Cal Coburn Brown’s execution in 2010 was the last time the death penalty was carried out in Washington.

°°°

Source: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/10/11/citing-arbitrary-use-and-racial-bias-washington-supreme-court-abolishes-states-death?cd-origin=rss&utm_term=Citing%20Arbitrary%20Use%20and%20Racial%20Bias%2C%20Washington%20Supreme%20Court%20Abolishes%20State%27s%20Death%20Penalty&utm_campaign=Corporate%20Media%20Slowly%20Crawl%20Away%20From%20the%20Saudis%20%7C%20News%20%2526%20Views&utm_content=email&utm_source=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&cm_mmc=Act-On%20Software-_-email-_-Corporate%20Media%20Slowly%20Crawl%20Away%20From%20the%20Saudis%20%7C%20News%20%2526%20Views-_-Citing%20Arbitrary%20Use%20and%20Racial%20Bias%2C%20Washington%20Supreme%20Court%20Abolishes%20State%27s%20Death%20Penalty

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Citing Arbitrary Use and Racial Bias, Washington Supreme Court Abolishes State’s Death Penalty

“This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”

by Jon Queally,
staff writer

Scott Langley of Boston, Massachusetts, holds a banner during a vigil against the death penalty in front of the U.S. Supreme Court July 1, 2008 in Washington, DC. The Abolitionist Action Committee and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty held the vigil to abolish the death penalty to mark the 1972 and 1976 Supreme Court rulings suspending the death penalty and later allowing executions to resume. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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.

“Washington’s Supreme Court showed courage in refusing to allow racism to infect life and death decisions. Let’s hope that courage is contagious.” —Jeff Robinson, ACLU“Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington,” declared Washington’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee in response to the ruling.

“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,” Inslee added. “This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”

The ACLU noted the ruling makes Washington the 20th state in the U.S. to ban the death penalty, but the group said it “won’t stop fighting until it’s struck down everywhere in America.”

As Slate reports:

the court held Thursday that capital punishment is imposed in “an arbitrary and racially biased manner” and “fails to serve any legitimate penological goals.” The problems go beyond race: Most prosecutors in the state have stopped seeking the death penalty, so all current capital sentences arise from just six of Washington’s 39 counties. The location of your crime may therefore determine whether you live or die. This “random” and “capricious” application of the ultimate punishment, the court ruled, fatally undermines any state interest “retribution and deterrence of capital crimes by prospective offenders.”

There are currently eight inmates on Washington’s death row. The court converted their sentences to life imprisonment and forbade the state from conducting any further executions. Because its ruling is based entirely in the state constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court cannot overturn it. And the court left no room for future reconsideration of its unanimous decision. Capital punishment is over in Washington State.

Jeff Robinson, deputy legal director and director of the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the court recognized clearly that racial bias remains at the heart of “who should and who should die” in the America’s skewed justice system.

“There is nothing unique about the role racism played in Washington’s death penalty,” said Robinson. “What is rare is the Supreme Court’s willingness to call out the truth that has always been there.”

Noting that both conscious and unconscious racial bias “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,” Robinson said that this kind of “disparity can be described by many words — but justice is not one of them.”

Human rights groups and other death penalty opponents said they hope that others states, and ultimately the U.S. federal government, will now follow the other twenty states and ban the death penalty nationwide:

“Washington’s Supreme Court showed courage in refusing to allow racism to infect life and death decisions,” said the ACLU’s Robinson. “Let’s hope that courage is contagious.”