The Washington state Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision on Oct. 11 that the death penalty is “invalid” and “unconstitutional.”

The Washington state Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision on Oct. 11 that the death penalty is “invalid” and “unconstitutional.”

State Supreme Court strikes down death penalty

All nine justices found the use of capital punishment in Washington state unconstitutional and racially biased.

The Washington state Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision on Oct. 11 that the death penalty is “invalid” and “unconstitutional” due to racial bias in its application — effectively banning capital punishment in the state.

Specifically, all nine justices argued that while the death penalty itself isn’t unconstitutional, its usage is unconstitutional because it is “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” They cited an extensive 2014 University of Washington study on racial bias in cases resulting in capital punishment in Washington, noting that from 1981 to 2014, black defendants were between 3.5 and 4.6 times more likely to receive a death sentence than non-black defendants in similar cases. Since 1904, 78 defendants on death row have been executed in Washington.

“Given the evidence before this court and our judicial notice of implicit and overt racial bias against black defendants in this state, we are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance,” Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote in the lead opinion. “We hold that Washington’s death penalty is unconstitutional, as administered, because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

The ruling stems from the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, a black man who was convicted of raping, robbing, and killing a 43-year-old woman back in 1996. In 2001, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death by a jury. However, he and his attorneys appealed the decision, and the case eventually landed before the state Supreme Court.

In their ruling, the court also converted the death sentences of Gregory and the seven other inmates on death row to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said at a press conference Oct. 11 at the state capitol that since the ruling was within the legal framework of the state constitution, it cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, the ruling is not a permanent ban on capital punishment. The justices wrote that the death penalty is not innately unconstitutional, and that the state Legislature could draft a “carefully crafted statute” to reimpose a different version capital punishment — so long as it is a system that won’t offend “constitutional rights.”

In 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on capital punishment, sparing the lives of inmates who were sitting on death row. Four years later, during the 2018 legislative session, Inslee, along with Ferguson and King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, supported legislation that would have banned the death penalty statewide. However, while the bill passed the state Senate, it failed to move out of the House and was never enacted into law.

Inslee called the ruling a “hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”

“This is a full and final decision by the state Supreme Court and, absent legislative action, there will be no capital punishment in the state of Washington,” Inslee said at the Oct. 11 press conference. He added that he doesn’t think lawmakers can craft a version of capital punishment that won’t violate the court’s ruling, and said that potential effort to reimpose the death penalty would be a “grand waste of time” and that he would veto it.

Gregory’s attorneys Neil Fox and Lila Silverstein also lauded the decision. “By striking down the 1981 death penalty statute, Washington now joins the overwhelming majority of the world’s democracies in its respect for human life,” Fox wrote in a statement. Silverstein added, “However one feels about the propriety of capital punishment in theory, in practice the death penalty is imposed in an unfair, arbitrary, and racially biased manner. The Supreme Court properly ruled the Washington Constitution does not tolerate such an unfair system.”

American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson, who also participated in Gregory’s case, said in a statement that the court “showed courage in refusing to allow racism to infect life and death decisions.”

He added: “Let’s hope that courage is contagious.”

Across the country, 20 states have eliminated the death penalty altogether.

More in News

The city of Maple Valley’s state Route 169 improvements will be made between Witte Road Southeast and Southeast 240th Street, the stretch of road just southeast of the city’s SR 18 interchange. Image courtesy of the city of Maple Valley
Improvements to SR 169 underway, may affect local commuters

If you drive north through Maple Valley, these road-widening projects will probably affect your arrival time.

Spiketon Bridge to get temporary repair

By next fall, a two-lane temporary bridge is expected to help ease Buckley traffic.

A woman works on a drawing next to an unused viewing scope as a smoky haze obscures the Space Needle and downtown Seattle last August as smoke from wildfires moved across the region. (Photo courtesy of The Herald/Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
Why do Washington voters struggle with climate change policies?

Despite environmental awareness and the public’s apparent desire for reform, statewide initiatives keep failing

Dead passengers in fatal SR 164 crash identified

One of the passengers was a local middle schooler.

Following resignation, POM will again be searching for director

The board of directors met Dec. 12 to discuss the issue.

Flavored tobacco: a candy-coated addiction | Public Health Insider

Is it a candy? A juice box? Or liquid nicotine?

Mary Lynn Pannen, founder and CEO of Sound Options, has consulted thousands of Washington families on geriatric care for 30 years. Photo courtesy of Sound Options.
Elder abuse cases are on the rise in Washington

Local agencies and geriatric care managers aim to increase public awareness about the epidemic.

Chain-up or pay up on Snoqualmie | WSDOT

Not using chains or any other approved alternatives could net you a $500 ticket.

Bonney Lake man arrested in connection with drug ring

Charles Joslyn, 38, is being charged with helping smuggle and distribute heroin, crystal meth, and fentanyl-laced drugs in Washington.

Most Read