Washington's Governor Just Suspended the Death Penalty for at Least the Next Three Years

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 11 2014 3:03 PM

Washington's Governor Just Suspended the Death Penalty for at Least the Next Three Years

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Washington Governor Jay Inslee attends a launch event for the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry on October 11, 2013 in Seattle, Washington

Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced a moratorium on executions that he suggested will remain in place for at least the next three years. At a morning press conference, the Democrat said that there was simply "too much at stake" in death penalty cases given that they occur within an "imperfect system." Putting things more simply, Inslee, who began his first four-year term in 2013, added: "During my term we will not be executing people."

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Here's the Seattle Times with a little more on Inslee's argument and a similar decision made more than a decade ago in Illinois:

Inslee cited the high cost of trials and appeals, the apparent randomness that death penalties are pursued and concerns that executions do not deter crime as reasons for his decision. ... He also cited the high cost of death-penalty cases, which he said are more expensive than sending some to prison for life. ...
Inslee’s actions recall those of then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who first imposed a moratorium on executions in 2000. He then emptied death row in 2003. When Ryan called for the moratorium, Illinois had executed 12 death row inmates since 1977. The sentences of 13 others had been overturned. In some of those 13 cases, evidence showed the suspects were innocent. In others, the trials were deemed unfair or confessions were found to be coerced by police.
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To be clear: Inslee has not made the death penalty illegal in the state of Washington—he said he's not even asking the state legislature to abolish capital punishment, simply hoping that his decision will allow his state to "join a growing national conversation about capital punishment."

The moratorium, the Associated Press explains, effectively means that if a death penalty case comes to Inslee's desk, he will just issue a reprieve, which would stop the execution from proceeding as planned. A reprieve isn't the same thing as a pardon, nor does it commute the sentences of an inmate on death row. "I think this is a relatively restrained use of the executive power," said the governor. "The citizens of the state of Washington can be assured the men of death row will be in prison for as long as they live."

While Inslee's decision will leave the death penalty on the books—at least for the time being—it comes as the number of executions in the United States continues to fall. Last year, the total nearly fell its lowest point since capital punishment was reinstated back in the 1970s. Maryland, meanwhile, became the 18th state to abolish the death penalty all together, and the sixth to do so in as many years.

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