The Supreme Court of the State of Washington has killed the death penalty. Part of its rationale was that capital punishment is imposed in a racially biased manner. According to a report by ottawasun.com, the decision was unanimous in the appeal of a man who was found guilty to having raped and murdered a woman in her home. The court held that capital punishment isn’t equally applied, and that it’s cruel and unusual under the state’s constitution. All of the state’s inmates who are on death row had their penalties converted to life in prison based on racial or other considerations.
The court stated that the use of the death penalty isn’t applied equally. Factors that sometimes influenced sentencing included where the crime occurred, the county of the defendant’s residence, budgetary resources at different times and the defendant’s race. The court relied heavily on a study that was performed on behalf of the appellant. The study found that depending on the statistical method used, black defendants were 3.5 to 4.6 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants. The court also found significant differences from county to county in decisions to seek the death penalty. Washington is now the third state to pull the switch on the death penalty as a result of a finding of racial disparity. Massachusetts and Connecticut are the others. Capital punishment is still permitted in 30 states. A moratorium on the death penalty in Washington had been in effect since 2014.
In the subject case, the defendant’s conviction was overturned. That was partially based on prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments. A second jury was chosen for purposes of sentencing, and that jury also imposed the death penalty. By law, that sentence was required to be reviewed by the Washington Supreme Court. The law requires the court to inquire into whether the death penalty is excessive or disproportionate to penalties in similar cases. The defendant successfully argued that in his case, the sentence was disproportionate.
The court’s ruling was that the death penalty in the State of Washington was unconstitutional as administered. The issue that wasn’t addressed in the court’s decision is whether the state’s legislature intends on drafting a new death penalty statute that’s consistent with the decision in the subject case. If it does, it’s highly likely that the new statute will be challenged sometime in the future.