Washington state’s Supreme Court has found that the death penalty, as applied, violates its Constitution. The five justices made a unanimous decision that the “death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” The eight people currently on death row in Washington will have their sentences converted to life in prison.
The ruling was in the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, who was sentenced to death in 2001 for raping, robbing, and killing a 43-year-old woman in 1996. In appealing his sentence, he commissioned a study on the effect of race and county on the imposition of the death penalty. The report found that black defendants were 4 1/2 times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants.
Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote in the majority ruling, “It is now apparent that Washington’s death penalty is administered in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” That means that the penalty is in violation of article I, section 14 of the state constitution. The justices said they would not reconsider Gregory’s arguments on his guilt.
According to online state records, the last execution took place on September 10, 2010. The Washington State Department of Corrections reports that 78 men have been executed in the state since 1904. None of the executed were women. Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in the state in 2014.
The court ruling makes Washington the latest state to do away with capital punishment. According to the non-profit group Death Penalty Information Center, 20 states have either abolished or overturned the death penalty. While 30 states still allow the death penalty as a punishment for crimes, three have put moratoriums on it.