Washington State Revokes Death Penalty, Calls it Racially Biased
Washington state ruled the application of the death penalty is racially biased and converted eight death penalty sentences to life in prison.
The state of Washington struck down the death penalty last Thursday. The state’s Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty in Washington has been arbitrarily imposed and tainted by racial bias since 1981. Thus, they ruled the death penalty violates the Constitution of the state of Washington.
To correct past erroneous judgments, the state converted the death sentences of eight people on death row to life in prison. Among these was Allen Eugene Gregory, who had brought the challenge of the death penalty before the state’s supreme court. Gregory was convicted of robbing and killing Geneine Harshfield, 43, in 1996, and sentenced to death for aggravated first-degree murder.
The Washington Supreme Court panel agreed with Gregory’s claim that capital punishment is unfairly applied and racially biased but ignored to talk about the specifics of his conviction.
Blacks Are Sentenced To Death at 4 ½ Times the Rate of Whites for Similar Offenses
Before the ruling abolishing the death penalty, juries in Washington could sentence criminals to death when there were aggravating circumstances, an absence of factors that would warrant leniency, absolute certainty of guilt and the possibility of future criminal acts, Courthousenews reported.
Under the law, the state Supreme Court reviewed every death sentence imposed by lower courts. This is to ensure that judges of the lower were not biased or prejudiced in imposing the death penalty or whether the offender was intellectually handicapped.
To review Gregory’s claim of bias in death penalty sentences, the Washington Supreme Court consulted a study published by Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington. The researcher analyzed how race influenced capital punishments imposed on criminals in Washington between 1981 and 2012.
In the study, Beckett found that blacks were sentenced to death 4 ½ times the rate at which whites were sentenced for the same offenses. The number of blacks in any county where a crime was committed also influenced the award of the capital punishment by juries. The government tasked a commissioner with determining the authenticity of Beckett’s research and compared it with views of experts on the subject so as to determine the accuracy of the study.
Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst of the Washington Supreme Court disclosed that reviewing the study ultimately justified and reinforced the data and claims made by Beckett. Based on the review of the study and the study’s findings of racial bias in applying the death penalty, the court agreed with Gregory that the death penalty was imposed on him out of racial bias and prejudice.
“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,” Fairhurst wrote. “Our case law and history of racial discrimination provide ample support.”
The apex court said it also took into consideration that 19 other states together with the District of Columbia have banned the use of capital punishment. Fairhurst said the court is aware that capital punishment is no longer the trend everywhere in the world. She said that sentencing an individual to death in a racially-charged and arbitrary manner is an injustice to society, thereby offending humanity.