Washington lawmakers echo global push to end death penalty

Washington’s Attorney General has proposed legislation that will abolish the death penalty. (Illustration by Kai Stachowiak via Pixabay)

There has long been an international push to abolish capital punishment. Washington state could follow suit, as a bipartisan group of lawmakers consider a bill to end the state’s death penalty during this year’s legislative session.

The group of lawmakers, including Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, presented the proposal at a news conference earlier this month, citing a variety of issues, including unequal implementation of sentences, the financial burden it poses, and moral opposition on the issue.

Ferguson unveiled his plans alongside Republican State Senators Mark Miloscia of Federal Way and Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla and Democrats Rep. Tina Orwall of Des Moines and Sen. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle.

Orwall said that while she and her fellow legislators have different reasons for supporting it, she is glad to be presenting a united front and to be working towards progress.

“I think what gives me hope is that there is a movement going and that will give us momentum,” Orwall said.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 5354, introduced by Miloscia, is currently pending before the Senate Law and Justice Committee. According to The Attorney General’s office no vote has been taken or scheduled yet.

Ferguson noted in a press release that seeking a death sentence was over $1 million on average in the state of Washington.

Critics also say the cases are subject to error because of false testimonies or jury bias.

“What we have is a system of fair procedure but not necessarily a system of truth” said Lara Zarowsky director of the Legislative Advocacy Clinic at the University of Washington’s School of Law.

Zarowsky said false convictions are a major issue in Washington and the nation as a whole.

Orwall said the average time it takes to exonerate someone from death row is 15 years.

The death penalty has a complicated history in Washington. It’s been abolished twice, in 1913 and 1975, and then reinstated both times.

Two years ago, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty and supports the efforts to abolish it, said his spokeswoman Tara Lee.

Inslee is inspired by the global movements pushing to abolish the death penalty and has long since dedicated himself to the issue, his office said in an email.

“It’s great that people around the world are focused on this and the governor supports their efforts. The governor has been on record against the death penalty in Washington state for several years,” Lee said.

Inslee also issued a reprieve of a death row inmate Clark Richard Elmore.

Washington currently has nine people on death row. If the legislature abolishes the death penalty, those nine would remain in prison for life without parole.

Global opposition to capital punishment

The issue of capital punishment has long been a subject of debate around the world.

Amnesty International reported that 1,634 executions had been carried out in 2015 in 25 countries. China carried out the majority of the executions, followed by Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. The United States is the nation with the fifth highest number of executions.

The United Nations has been encouraging its members to abolish the death penalty for years.

In December of 2014, the UN proposed a moratorium on all executions. In an article last month, The New Yorker wrote that in its most recent proposal for a moratorium, 117 members were for with only 40 against, one of those being the U.S.

About 160 countries in the world have either abolished the death penalty, placed a moratorium on executions, or do not practice it at all, according to a report from the UN Human Rights.

In October 2014, Gen. Ban Ki-Moon, former General-Secretary of the UN, said capital punishment goes against fundamental human rights.

“The death penalty has no place in the 21st century,” Ki-Moon said.

He urged members to pose a moratorium on executions or pardon prisoners on death row on the basis of moral opposition.