WA’s Gov Suspends Death Penalty, Saying There Are ‘Too Many Doubts’

WA's Gov Suspends Death Penalty, Saying There Are 'Too Many Doubts'

Washington’s Gov. Inslee announced suspension of the death penalty, joining other Democratic governors in making the change.
Image Credit: law.fiu.edu

On Tuesday, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee announced there would be no more executions on his watch. Citing the most critical reason possible for taking this step, he said:

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.

Inslee hopes to become part of the national conversation.

Inslee hopes the moratorium will give Washington a chance to join a growing conversation. The use of an irreversible punishment which has sometimes been applied to the innocent is being seriously questioned nationwide.  He is the third Democratic governor in recent years to make such an announcement. Previously, Oregon’s Gov. Kitzhaber and Colorado’s Gov. Hickenlooper took the same executive action. Eighteen states have outlawed the death penalty altogether, including six in just the last six years.

The governor also pointed out that capital punishment doesn’t serve the cause of equal justice. Counties are inconsistent in their ability to use the death penalty because of disparities in their budgets. The expense of pursuing death penalty cases to their conclusion can be prohibitive. Inslee said:

The costs associated with prosecuting a capital case far outweigh the price of locking someone up for life without the possibility of parole.

Racial disparities in applying the death penalty have been obvious.

The NAACP immediately backed the governor’s action. The death penalty has been widely shown to apply unevenly across the races. Statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center can be seen here. The president of the Seattle – King County NAACP, Gerald Hankerson, said:

Nowhere are disparities between black and white inmates in criminal justice more apparent than in sentences deciding who lives and dies.

Nine men are currently on death row in Walla Walla, Washington. None of them are going anywhere. Inslee’s action doesn’t commute their sentences, nor does it change state law. Plus, a future governor could easily reverse the moratorium. However, it gives a divided state breathing room to have a conversation about the law, and it lends weight to the side of reason.

In a reflection of the divide, state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, has been behind an effort in the legislature to get rid of Washington’s death penalty. He believes Inslee has provided a “profound shift” in momentum in that direction. Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, thinks Inslee is “out of touch”.

Inslee made a responsible change in position.

However, it’s a fact that, nationwide, the death penalty and executions are on the decline. Abolition of the death penalty by individual states is on the rise. Gov. Inslee himself used to support the death penalty. Then his position as governor made him the guy responsible for whether executions are carried out. He consulted with victims’ families, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials before arriving at his decision. As he concluded: “My responsibilities as governor have led me to re-evaluate that position.”

Gov. Inslee wrestled his conscience onto the right side of history, and onto the right side of justice. Hopefully, his state will follow his lead.