Washington Abolishes the Death Penalty


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill on Friday that officially removes capital punishment from state law.

Senate Bill 5087 removes state laws that have been held unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court.

In 2018, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional “because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

The court evaluated evidence of racial bias in the state’s death penalty, including an exhaustive statistical study showing that Black defendants were four and a half times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants.

The death sentences of eight people who were then on Washington’s death row were vacated as part of the court’s decision.

But the decision did not prevent state lawmakers from proposing new death penalty laws, and the state’s old capital punishment statute remained on the books.

The new law takes the final step of formally abolishing the death penalty in Washington.

“It’s official,” the governor said on Twitter after signing the bill. “The death penalty is no longer in state law.”

More than half of the country has no active death penalty: 23 states and Washington, D.C., have abolished the death penalty and governors in another five states—California, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Arizona, and Ohio—have imposed a moratorium on executions.

Death sentences and executions remain near historic low levels and continue to be concentrated in a handful of jurisdictions.

And as exonerations from death row have soared to 191 people, public support for the death penalty remains near record lows.