Washington’s Supreme Court said on Thursday that the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional because the government imposed that penalty in an arbitrary and discriminatory way.
The Court’s majority opinion cited evidence that African American individuals were around three to five times more likely to receive the death penalty than others. The case — State v. Gregory — involved a man who faced the death penalty for allegedly raping and murdering a woman.
“We are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance,” the opinion read.
According to the Court’s opinion, the state’s death penalty violated its Constitutional provision that read, “Excessive bail shall not be required, excessive fines imposed, nor cruel punishment inflicted.”
Governor Jay Inslee praised the decision in a press release on Thursday:
“Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington. The court makes it perfectly clear that capital punishment in our state has been imposed in an ‘arbitrary and racially biased manner,’ is ‘unequally applied’ and serves no criminal justice goal. This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”
When Inslee placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014, he similarly called its application unequal.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) similarly praised the decision.
“Racial bias, conscious or unconscious, plays a role in the death penalty decisions across America, influencing who faces this ultimate punishment, who sits on the jury, what kind of victim impact and mitigation evidence is used, and who is given life or death,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffrey Robinson said.
Washington became the 20th state to reject the death penalty, and the decision came as the nation reportedly saw a steep drop in executions in 2016.
The decision also came as the Vatican announced a change to the catechism, claiming the death penalty was inadmissible in all cases.