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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Washington State Takes Crucial Step Toward Abolishing the Death Penalty

Washington state's death chamber
The Washington state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would ban the death penalty, leading the state one step closer to ending the practice for good.

As the Seattle Times reports, the bill passed the Democratic-led Senate with bipartisan support. The measure would strike the death penalty from being considered as a sentencing option for aggravated murder. If the bill passes, the harshest sentence in the state would instead be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The measure now heads to the Statehouse, which has a 2-person Democratic majority.

Thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee, there has been a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington since 2014.

Lawmakers cited the cost of maintaining the death penalty and incidences of wrongful convictions as reasons to abolish capital punishment. According to the Times, one Seattle University study from 2015 found that death-penalty cases in Washington "cost $1 million more than similar cases where capital punishment [was] not sought."

One of the co-sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, said the vote was a reflection of the public's evolution on capital punishment.

"You cannot read a front-page story about DNA mistakes that has someone in jail for 35 years and not be jolted to the core," Carlyle said, according to the Times. "That has transformed the public's view of this issue."

In Washington, as in other parts of the country, capital punishment disproportionately affects black defendants.

One 2015 study found that jurors in Washington state were 3 times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than a white one - despite the fact that prosecutors were slightly more likely to seek the death penalty against white defendants. This unequal application of the punishment was among the reasons Gov. Inslee instilled the moratorium.

If the bill passes in the Statehouse, Washington will join 19 other states and the District of Columbia in ridding themselves of the death penalty. 3 other states aside from Washington - Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania - currently have moratoriums on the practice.

Source: The Associated Press, February 15, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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