The Supreme Court of the state of Washington on Thursday declared that the death penalty violates the state’s constitution. With this judgement, Washington became the 20th state in the United States to abolish capital punishment, AP reported.
The court held that the state’s death penalty law was “arbitrary and racially based”. “The death penalty is unequally applied — sometimes by where the crime took place, or the county of residence, or the available budgetary resources at any given point in time, or the race of the defendant,” Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst said in her judgment.
A recent statistical analysis by the University of Washington showed that while prosecutors were not more likely to seek capital punishment for African-American defendants, juries were four times more likely to award them the death penalty.
“Now the information is plainly before us,” Fairhurst wrote. “To the extent that race distinguishes the cases, it is clearly impermissible and unconstitutional.”
The court passed the verdict after hearing the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, an African-American man who was convicted of raping, robbing and killing Geneine Harshfield, a 43-year-old woman, in 1996. Several former Washington Supreme Court judges had asked the court to use the case to strike down the death penalty.
“This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014, said after the verdict, CNN reported.
With the court’s decision, the sentences of eight people on death row in Washington have been converted into life imprisonment without the possibility of release. The state has carried out five executions since the United States Supreme Court reinstated death penalty in 1976.