Attorney General-sponsored bill converts death penalty to life without possibility of parole
OLYMPIA — Today, the Washington State Senate passed Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s proposal to repeal Washington’s death penalty in a bipartisan 28-18 vote. This is the third time in as many years that the Senate has passed Ferguson’s bill, which will formally end the practice after the Washington State Supreme Court found the state’s method of applying the death penalty unconstitutional.
The bill, Senate Bill 5339, is Attorney General request legislation sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle. The measure now heads to the state House for consideration.
“The Washington State Supreme Court has struck down the death penalty four times, and until now, we repeatedly tried to ‘fix’ the legal problems,” Ferguson said. “Enough is enough. This bill gives clarity to prosecutors and the public, ending the cycle of trying to fix this broken and irreparable law. The House of Representatives can send a powerful message that the people of Washington state are part of the nationwide movement to use finite criminal justice resources in ways that are fair, equitable, and effective.”
“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. 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,” Sen. Carlyle said. “I’m honored to have sponsored this measure for many years because we as a civil 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 House version, House Bill 1488, is sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines.
Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on executions in the State of Washington in February 2014.
This is the fourth time Ferguson has proposed repealing the death penalty. Ferguson’s bill passed the state Senate in 2018 and 2019, but the House has yet to bring it to a vote.
On Oct. 11, 2018, the Washington Supreme Court found that Washington’s use of the death penalty was “racially biased,” “arbitrary,” and “lacks ‘fundamental fairness.’ ” A study submitted to the court showed black defendants were four times as likely as white defendants to be sentenced to death. The court therefore unanimously found that Washington’s use of the death penalty is unconstitutional.
As a result, the sentences of everyone who had been on death row in Washington state have been converted to life without the possibility of parole.
Rather than attempt to “fix” Washington’s broken death penalty system, Ferguson’s bill abolishes it altogether, replacing it with a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org