The Washington Supreme Court has ruled the state’s death penalty violates the state constitution because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.
The court ruled unanimously that the death penalty is unconstitutionally cruel punishment under the state constitution because its unequal application fails to serve any legitimate penological goal. The court converted all death sentences to life imprisonment.
“The use of the death penalty is unequally applied—sometimes by where the crime took place, or the county of residence, or the available budgetary resources at any given point in time, or the race of the defendant,” the court said.
The court cited a study commissioned for Gregory that found black defendants were between 3.5 and 4.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death in the state than similarly situated white defendants. The percentage varied based on the statistical model used.
The study also found significant county-by-county variation in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty, and said a portion of that variation is a function of the size of the black population.
The Washington Supreme Court is the third state supreme court to strike down the death penalty partly because of concerns about racial disparities, according to a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union. The other courts were Massachusetts in 1980 and Connecticut in 2015. The SEATTLE TIMES has also posted about the decision.