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Washington State S. Ct. Gets Rid of Death Penalty

The Washington State Supreme Court has put an end to the state imposing the death penalty. Effectively, anyone sentenced to die in the state just had their sentences converted to life without parole.

Interestingly, the court based its decision upon a finding that the way the state imposed the death penalty was racially biased. Even more interestingly, that finding was significantly based upon a study that was commissioned by the appellant, who was seeking to stop his execution from going forward. This decision makes Washington the 20th state to prohibit the death penalty.

Study Saves Life

The state's high court noted that the study commissioned by the appellant explained that black defendants were over four times more likely to get a death sentence than a similarly situated white defendant.

Furthermore, it was noted that while race didn't seem to influence whether prosecutors sought the death penalty, it certainly seemed to influence how jurors voted on the issue. The justices were convinced that "the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance." It noted that race and other factors contributed to biased application.

Death Redone

The Court did note that the legislature could carefully redraft the death penalty legislation so as to avoid the issue of systemic racial bias. Curiously, the state's governor, Jay Inslee, had imposed a moratorium on executions in 2014 due to his concerns over its application and the availability of life without parole.

For Allen Eugene Gregory who brought the challenge, although the court refused to touch the issue of his underlying conviction for rape and murder, he was able to convert his death sentence to a life sentence, which is a significant victory.

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