Written by Stryder Wegener
In February, the state of Washington came the closest it has ever been to abolishing the death penalty. In previous years, the fight to end the use of capital punishment gained little support in the legislature. This year, the measure received more support than ever, and the state Senate passed a bill in favor of ending the practice. While there were not enough votes to pass the measure in the House, this is a good sign that Washington may rightly follow in the footsteps of states such as Alaska, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, which prohibit the death penalty.
If you have questions about the Washington state death penalty and its applicability to criminal cases in the state, contact the Seattle criminal defense attorneys of Emerald City Law Group at 206-973-0407 to schedule a free case consultation.
The Legislature Should Abolish the Washington State Death Penalty
Many people believe the death penalty is a just punishment for certain crimes. Whether or not this is true, there are many valid reasons for putting an end to capital punishment, including:
It is Costly
When a prosecutor seeks the death penalty, it begins a lengthy and costly legal process. The prosecution and defense spend an inordinate amount of time researching and preparing for the case. Capital cases, during and prior to trial, cost a significant amount more than cases not involving the death penalty. Individuals are also entitled to a number of appeals, which is why it can take decades before someone is executed. This legal process is essential under the Constitution, but it adds to the cost of capital cases. Prosecuting and defending a single capital case can exceed millions of dollars in legal and law enforcement expenses. A study by Seattle University found a death penalty case in the state cost at least $1 million more than a case in which execution is not requested.
It is Influenced by Racism
Research over the years has clearly shown that jurors are more likely to approve the death penalty for a black defendant than for a white defendant in a similar case. A 2014 study regarding jurors in Washington found that individuals on a jury were three times more likely to execute a black individual than a white individual. The race of the victims also matters. A defendant is more likely to be sentenced to execution if their victims were white.
Innocent People are at Risk
Jurors are not always right. There have been many cases in which someone on death row was later found innocent and released. There are also numerous cases in which someone was executed who was later proven innocent and who always maintained their innocence. In every case, there is a risk that the jury is wrong, and they may send an innocent person to death. Many believe it is unethical to take that risk.
It is an Ineffective Deterrent
One of the reasons individuals use to support the death penalty is that it deters serious crime. However, the death penalty has never been shown to lower the murder or violent crime rate. A study published in 2008 found 88 percent of criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime. It is believed that while criminals worry about whether or not they will get caught, they do not concentrate on the potential punishment for their crimes.
Senate Bill 6052 Dies in Committee
The Washington Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 6052 on February 14 with a 26-22 vote. The bill made its way to the House days later. However, no formal conversation occurred, and on March 8, a House resolution returned the bill to the Senate Rules Committee for a third reading. While many are disappointed the bill did not move forward, others, including Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson believe rising support may lead to changes next year.
The Moratorium on the Washington State Death Penalty
In February 2014, Governor Inslee placed a moratorium on the death penalty in the state. Nine men were on death row at the time, and a person had not been executed in the state since September 2010. The basis of his decision was research that demonstrated an inconsistent and unequal use of capital punishment. He also listed the cost of capital punishment as another basis for the moratorium, since evidence shows the costs of keeping someone on death row is greater than the expense of life in prison. Governor Inslee spoke with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and affected family members in addition to touring death row at Walla Walla State Penitentiary before making his decision.
Defendants Deserve an Aggressive Legal Team
While there is a moratorium on the Washington state death penalty, it does not mean prosecutors cannot currently seek an execution in the hopes that it will be available in the future. Defendants may still face the possibility of capital punishment at sentencing, and they deserve an aggressive defense from the criminal defense attorneys of Emerald City Law Group in the wake of such a possibility.