Washington’s death penalty is applied inequitably and its administration is costly.
For so many reasons, Washington state should eliminate the death penalty.
As King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberghas argued eloquently in these pages and recently before a state Senate committee: the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, it is unnecessary for public safety, it is not worth the cost to taxpayers or the emotional energy for victims’ families, and it simply hasn’t worked the way it was intended.
Since Washington reinstated the death penalty in 1981, 33 people were sentenced to die, five have been executed and eight are currently on death row. Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on executions in 2014, which helped boost this policy conversation. But that does not bind future governors.
The Legislature should end the death penalty this year.
Senate Bill 6052, which would eliminate the death penalty, has bipartisan support for a variety of reasons, including those listed by Satterberg. Also, as primary sponsor Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, says, the death penalty process is not worth the $1.5 million in public costs per case and the years victims’ families suffer through the process.
Not all victims’ families or prosecutors agree that the death penalty should be abandoned. But as Satterberg asks: Do you support the death penalty Washington has or the one you wish we had?
“The law we have is deeply flawed,” he told the Law & Justice Committee, which passed the bill out of committee on Jan. 25.
The law is used only in the most populous counties, because those are the only municipalities that can afford decades of death penalty appeals. Most counties do not have the resources to even consider pursuing the death penalty. Even in the counties where such a process is possible, death penalty cases suck money away from other important prosecutorial work.
The legal system is imperfect, no matter how carefully these cases are managed. Nationally, since 1973 at least 160 people have been freed from death row after new evidence shows they were wrongly convicted, according to Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
Washington state should eliminate the death penalty.