Washington Governor Suspends Death Penalty, Citing ‘Too Many Flaws In The System’

CREDIT: Associated Press

Texas Death Chamber

CREDIT: Associated Press

Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in his state Tuesday, citing the fundamental inequality of the punishment’s imposition. He said he will issue a reprieve from the penalty in any death penalty case that comes to his desk for action. In a speech Tuesday he said:

Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served.

The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred. Let me acknowledge that there are many good protections built into Washington State’s death penalty law.

But there have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment. There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.

The death penalty has long been associated with racial bias. Since 1976, the vast majority of executions for interracial murders have involved crimes with a black defendant and a white victim. And in Texas, courts continue to reject a new sentencing hearing for an African American death row inmate whose initial hearing featured testimony by a psychologist that blacks are more likely to commit crimes.

Inslee’s observation that the punishment also differs from county to county echoes a recent Death Penalty Information Center report that found just two percent of counties perform the majority of U.S. executions.

Imposing the death penalty is also becoming increasingly difficult logistically, as international opposition has created a shortage of drugs for lethal injections, and states experiment with other controversial alternatives.

In May, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) also expressed his uncertainty over the death penalty when he granted an indefinite reprieve to a death row inmate who was about to be executed. “It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives,” he said. “Because the question is about the use of the death penalty itself, and not about Offender No. 89148, I have opted to grant a reprieve and not clemency in this case.” And in 2011, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber also imposed a moratorium. Several other states have de facto moratoria due to court rulings invalidating particular death penalty procedures. And 18 states have banned the death penalty outright. Last year, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to impose a ban.