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Death penalty should only be used in extreme cases

In Our Opinion

 


The effort to get rid of the death penalty in Washington state appears to be gaining some momentum.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee introduced Senate Bill 5353 in the current legislative session. If passed, the bill would repeal the death penalty and instead require life imprisonment without the release or parole for criminals convicted of aggravated first-degree murder.

This is the latest movement to abolish capital punishment in Washington. In 2014, Inslee put a moratorium on executions in the state, stating that no one would be executed while he was in office.

The Revised Code of Washington 10.95.020 lists 14 offenses that are considered aggravated first-degree murder, including taking the life of a law enforcement officer, corrections officer or firefighter who was performing their duties at the time of death.

Although capital punishment is legal in Washington, it’s not something that is often used. Since 1849, only 110 executions have been carried out in the state, according to The “Espy File,” a database of executions in the United States and the earlier colonies that dates back to 1608. The last criminal executed in Washington was in 2010 — Cal Coburn Brown, who was convicted of murdering a woman in 1991.

According to the Washington State Department of Corrections, there are currently eight inmates on death row.

Although capital punishment has been an institution of the nation’s justice system since the colonial times, we wonder what the rationale is for having it.

One misconception about capital punishment is that it’s “swift justice.” Unlike movies and TV shows, an inmate doesn’t just go from the courtroom to the electric chair. Criminals can file an appeal of their conviction, which can reach the state and national supreme courts, allowing them to spend years in jail before they are executed.

The death penalty is also costly for Washington residents. According to a 2015 Seattle University study, each death penalty case costs an average of $3.07 million, which is $1 million more than a similar case where capital punishment was not sought. The study adds that defense costs for death penalty cases are about three times higher than non-death penalty cases, while prosecution costs were as much as four times higher in capital punishment cases.

Support for the death penalty has declined over the years as well. In a September 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 49 percent of respondents — among 1,201 Americans surveyed — supported the death penalty, a 6 percent decline from the year before.

For a family who has lost a loved one to a criminal, they may get some satisfaction if the person who hurt them receives a death sentence, but it does not bring their loved one back.

Then there are death row inmates who are exonerated for crimes they did not commit. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 157 inmates were freed from death row after their charges were dismissed or a conviction was overturned in an appeals court. DNA evidence has also played a role in helping exonerate people who were innocent.

Our justice system requires criminals to pay restitution. If we really want murderers to pay for their crimes and never experience freedom, then maybe the system should emphasize life in prison without the possibility of parole. That means not letting them have any privileges and not allowing them the opportunity to experience gratification. All of the wages they make from their job — as minimal as they may be — goes to the family they hurt.

As for capital punishment, perhaps the state could better define its purpose and only use it in the most extreme circumstances.

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