Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty, Citing Racial Bias

News Release: 
Thursday, October 11, 2018
Thursday, October 11, 2018

In unanimous decision, state’s highest court finds death penalty unfair and unconstitutional

The Washington Supreme Court has outlawed the state’s death penalty. In its decision in State v. Gregory, the court found that the death penalty violates the constitution because it is arbitrary and discriminatory, especially with regard to race. Black defendants in Washington are more than four times as likely to be sentenced to death as white defendants. That racial bias, along with geographic bias, unreliability and excessive delays, results in a wholly unfair system.
“It is a profound statement when every member of the Washington Supreme Court agrees that the death penalty is arbitrary, infected with racial bias, and must end,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington. “We thank the scores of former and retired judges, religious leaders, and victims’ families who joined the ACLU brief in the case.”
The ACLU of Washington filed a friend-of-the-court brief calling on the state’s highest court to strike the death penalty as unfair and unconstitutional. Seventy-five former or retired judges, all of whom are intimately familiar with the role of the death penalty in the criminal justice system, joined the ACLU in the brief.
Attorneys Lila Silverstein of the Washington Appellate Project and Neil Fox represented Allen Eugene Gregory in his appeal to the state supreme court and brought the claims of constitutional error on his behalf.  ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson presented part of the arguments in the case.
“Racial bias, conscious or unconscious, plays a role in the death penalty decisions across America, influencing who faces this ultimate punishment, who sits on the jury, what kind of victim impact and mitigation evidence is used, and who is given life or death,” said Robinson, who is also director of the Trone Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union. “That disparity can be described by many words — but justice is not one of them.” 
In addition to Robinson, the brief was filed by ACLU Attorneys Cassandra Stubbs and Brian Stull, ACLU-WA Senior Staff Attorney Nancy Talner, and ACLU-WA Cooperating Attorneys John Wolfe, Aravind Swaminathan, Marc Shapiro, Sam Harbourt, and Alec Schierenbeck from the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Washington is the 20th state in the country to reject capital punishment.
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