The idea of a death penalty has lost favor among Democratic and Republican leaders in Washington state. It’s time for the Legislature to make permanent the current moratorium on executions.
WASHINGTON state should outlaw the death penalty. It’s an incredibly expensive criminal justice tool that is unevenly applied. Prosecutors in just three counties — King, Pierce and Snohomish — can still afford to consider adding an estimated $1 million to the cost of a trial to seek the death penalty, according to a Seattle University study.
The death penalty has lost favor among both the state’s Democratic and Republican leaders. A bipartisan legislative coalition has been encouraging a change in the law for almost a decade.
Nearly three years ago, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a moratorium on executions during his time in office. But Washington could return to executing prisoners when he leaves office. That’s why the Legislature should act.
The state hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2010, although there are inmates in prison who were sentenced to die.
Recently, the Whatcom County prosecutor asked the governor to lift his moratorium so the county follow through on the death sentence for Clark Richard Elmore, who raped and murdered a child in 1995.
Elmore does not deserve leniency. But the death penalty — or any other Washington law — should either be equally applied to all or it shouldn’t exist. As his office reiterated when Inslee granted a reprieve to Elmore last week, capital punishment across the state is inconsistent and unequally applied.
Washington is one of four states with a gubernatorial execution moratorium in place. The others are Oregon, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia no longer allow the death penalty. No easy explanation exists for why some states still allow the death penalty and others don’t. The division is arbitrary.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the use of capital punishment is waning, in both sentencing and practice. Fewer states allow the death penalty, fewer counties pursue it and juries are returning death sentences less frequently.
Increasingly, the belief in capital punishment as a crime deterrent is a thing of the past. Even some prosecutors are in favor of taking another look at eliminating capital punishment.
Last year, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys sent a letter to the Legislature asking that a referendum on the death penalty be sent to the voters.
The tide has turned. Lawmakers should make the tough choice and put the death penalty away during the legislative session that begins Monday.