Washington high court strikes down death penalty

By Mark Berman | Washington Post

The Washington state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down the death penalty there as unconstitutional and “racially biased,” a ruling that makes it the latest in a string of states to abandon capital punishment in recent years.

Washington state had already halted any executions under a moratorium put in place by Gov. Jay Inslee, D, in 2014, so the order issued Thursday will not stop already planned executions. But the court’s order, which declares that death sentences in the state should be converted to life in prison, is a sweeping rejection of capital punishment at a time when it is being used less nationwide and as states are struggling to obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections.

In their opinion, the justices focused on what they said was the unequal use of the death penalty, describing it as a punishment meted out haphazardly depending on little more than geography or timing.

“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote. “While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered.”

Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote the opinion and four justices concurred, one in the result only. Four other justices signed a concurrence saying they agreed with “the majority’s conclusions and its holding invalidating the death penalty” but adding other state constitutional factors they said “compel this result.”

The arguments outlined in Washington have echoes of what Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has said in questioning whether the death penalty itself is constitutional. In a 2015 dissent joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer called the death penalty’s use “capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary” and said for those …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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