Death penalty unconstitutional in Washington State

Last month, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s capital punishment law. The court said that the death penalty is imposed in a racially discriminatory manner. It considered a study indicating that black defendants receive the death penalty at least 3½ times more often than others. In addition, the court considered several specific instances of racial discrimination in death penalty cases. Thus, the law is “cruel punishment” under the state constitution. State v. Gregory, No. 88086-7 (slip op. Oct. 11, 2018).

The Catholic Church opposes the death penalty

October was Respect for Life Month for Catholics in the United States. The Church teaches a consistent ethic of life, from birth to natural death. Recently, the Church revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to read: “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” CCC 2267.

Speaking for the bishops of Washington State, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle applauded the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, saying: “The Catholic Church’s consistent belief is that every human life is sacred from conception until natural death – it is this principle that has energized our efforts for decades to abolish the death penalty.”

Support for the death penalty is slipping

Washington State has not conducted an execution since 1994. In 2014, Governor Jay Inslee adopted a moratorium on executions. Earlier this year, the state Senate voted to repeal the death penalty, but the bill never came to a vote in the state House. (As discussed earlier, in February I joined with other Catholics in asking members of the House to repeal the law.)

A similar trend is occurring nationwide. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty. A moratorium exists in three other states. Many oppose the death penalty for ethical and religious reasons. In addition, an increasing number of people also focus on other reasons, including mistaken convictions and the extraordinary costs.