Attorney General Bob Ferguson today proposed bipartisan legislation to abolish the death penalty in Washington.
In a demonstration of broad, bipartisan support for ending capital punishment in the state, former Attorney General Rob McKenna joined Ferguson at a press conference in the Capitol announcing the proposal.
The Attorneys General were joined by Governor Jay Inslee and a group of legislators from across the aisle and around the state.
“There is no role for capital punishment in a fair, equitable and humane justice system,” Ferguson said. “The Legislature has evaded a vote on the death penalty for years. The public deserves to know where their representatives stand.”
“The current system is not working,” said McKenna. “There is too much delay, cost and uncertainty around the death penalty, which is why I stand today with Attorney General Ferguson and this bipartisan group of legislators in support of this change.”
Ferguson articulated some of the many reasons for opposition to the death penalty, including:
- Moral opposition to the state taking lives in the people’s name
- The possibility of executing an innocent person in our imperfect system
- The increased cost of seeking death sentences versus life in prison – over $1 million on average in Washington state
- The concentration of capital cases in the counties with the most resources to pursue them, and
- The ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent.
Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way (30th District), is sponsoring the Attorney General-request legislation in the Senate, SB 5354. Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines (33rd District), will introduce the companion House bill.
Several legislators from both political parties joined Ferguson, McKenna and Inslee at today’s press conference.
“The public is slowly changing on the death penalty. I think now is the time to sit down and have a real conversation on how we administer justice in this state,” said Sen. Miloscia.
“We recognize that the death penalty is a painfully difficult and profoundly serious public issue,” said Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle (36th District). “With heavy consideration, we believe the time has come to end this practice in Washington and ask that our colleagues in the Legislature join us in making our criminal justice system reflect our deepest held values.”
“As a means of effective punishment, the death penalty is outdated,” said Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla(16th District). “Our legal system imposes enormous costs on prosecutors who try death penalty cases, the appeals process costs millions more, and the punishment is ultimately so uncertain that it is difficult to claim that justice is served. Not only is life-without-parole more cost-effective, it also offers the certainty that is an essential element of justice.”
“Over the last four decades, 156 people have been exonerated from death row across the nation. How many more continue waiting for new evidence to prove their innocence, and will they get it before their lives are taken?” said Rep. Orwall, who also led the way to pass legislation to get compensation for those wrongfully convicted in Washington. “If we truly want to serve justice, the state should avoid irreversible punishment to individuals who were wrongly convicted and would have otherwise been executed.”
“As a former prosecuting attorney for Columbia County, my heart remains with the families of the victims who suffered horrific acts that would justify the death penalty,” said Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton (16thDistrict), who was unable to attend the announcement in person. “Their feelings should never be minimalized. That is why it has taken so long for my thoughts to evolve against the death penalty in Washington state. However, the steps, the immense and extended time, and the incredible expense and resources it takes to impose and uphold this most severe form of punishment have made the death penalty nearly impossible to carry out. In recent years, even in the most heinous crimes, jurors have failed to impose the death penalty. In the meantime, families suffer for years with the angst of having to go through trials, court proceedings, appeals and more, not knowing if the death penalty will ever take place.”
The bill is expected to go to the Senate Law and Justice Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.
In February of 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on executions in the State of Washington, finding that executions in the state are “unequally applied” and “sometimes dependent on the size of the county’s budget.” The governor did not propose legislation to abolish the state’s death penalty, but his moratorium has remained in place since.
In the wake of Gov. Inslee’s moratorium announcement, newspapers across the state have encouraged the state to eliminate capital punishment, including the editorial boards of The Seattle Times, Spokane’s Spokesman-Review, the News Tribune in Tacoma and the Daily Herald in Everett.