OLYMPIA – The Washington Senate today voted 28-18 on a bipartisan basis to eliminate the death penalty in Washington law and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release or parole.
Senate Bill 5339, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), makes Washington statute consistent with a 2018 decision in which the state Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty as unconstitutional after ruling it was administered in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.
The court based its conclusion on statistical evidence showing significant county-by-county variation in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty. The court noted that African-American defendants were four-and-a-half times more likely to receive a death sentence than white defendants in similar cases.
“For more than 10 years I have worked with colleagues to help build consensus that moving beyond the death penalty is in the best interest of the people of this state,” Carlyle said. “I’m deeply appreciative of the thoughtful and gracious conversation with the families of victims, and the recognition that this is a moral, policy, financial and community issue that requires deep reflection and a commitment to elevate the civic discourse.
“I’m honored to have sponsored this measure for many years because we as a civic society have moved beyond the death penalty. This legislation represents us taking a stand and taking the death penalty off the books. I’m honored the Senate has passed this for the third time in three years, bringing us in line with the position of the governor and the courts.”
The bill will now proceed to the House of Representatives.
Washington’s death penalty law, enacted in 1981, has not been enforced since 2014, when Gov. Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on state executions. Twenty other states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, and gubernatorial moratoria are in place in four more states.