Bias Prompts Washington State to Halt Executions

With more than half of its death sentences over-turned since re-instituting capital punishment in 1981, on Tuesday the governor of Washington State halted all executions indefinitely, citing what he called “problems that exist in our capital punishment system.”

Governor Jay Inslee said he was “not convinced equal justice is being served” by the death penalty, and the facts back him up.

Critics note pervasive trends in racially biased sentencing, in which capital punishment stands out as the worst offender.  The first two death sentences carried out in Washington Territory, before the area became a state, was of two Native Americans in 1849, and the racial bias has continued ever since.

The Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty notes that while prosecutors have sought the death penalty in 42% of murder cases where the victim was white and the defendant was black, never in the history of the state have they sought the death penalty where the roles were reversed.

In a state where only 3.6% of the population is black, 44% of those who were on Washington’s death row as of Tuesday were black.  “Every juror that convicted and sentenced [those] black defendants was white,” reports the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Besides racial bias, fickle factors like the financial resources on one or the other side of a capital case play a role.  “The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred,” said Inslee.

Nationally, “Almost all defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys,” writes the Death Penalty Information Center.

While a only a tiny minority of all attorneys ever face discipline for misconduct, in Texas, “An examination of 461 capital cases by The Dallas Morning News found that nearly one in four condemned inmates has been represented at trial or on appeal by court-appointed attorneys who have been disciplined for professional misconduct at some point in their careers.”

For more information, check out the Death Penalty Information Center.


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