Washington is now the 20th state to outlaw the death penalty, as the state’s Supreme Court has ruled that it violates its constitution, citing racial bias.
“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” reads the ruling, which also points to factors like where the crime took place, the county of residence, available budget and the race of the defendant, all of which contribute to the death penalty being applied unequally.
The ruling today comes in the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, who has been on death row since 1996, when he was convicted of raping and murdering a woman. The ruling does not overthrow his murder conviction, although him and all seven others on death row will have their convictions converted to life sentences.
A Twitter thread posted by criminal justice attorney David Menschel highlights some of the most important parts of the ruling, including the “ample support” that the court cited as evidence of a “history of racial discrimination” in Washington’s state courts.
The ruling still provides an opening for the state legislature to pass a new death penalty statute if it can pass constitutional muster, although Menschel says this seems unlikely based on current consensus and his knowledge of Washington legislature.
With the death penalty now outlawed in nearly half of all U.S. states, it’s impossible to ignore the case for abolishing it nationwide. In addition to the moral arguent against capital punishment, the death penalty is backed up by a questionable scientific and racial history going back to the start of the colonial era in the U.S., which is the only Western country where it is still applied. It may take a long and difficult journey to get there, but the death penalty may finally be going away for good.