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USA: Death penalty declared unconstitutional in Washington State

Washington State, in turn, prohibits the death penalty, deemed unconstitutional. – P. Sullivan / AP / SIPA

The Supreme Court of Washington State on Thursday declared the
 unconstitutional death penalty, with local judges considering it to be "arbitrary" and "racist".

Located in the northwestern United States, Washington State, which has not executed since 2010, becomes the twentieth state where the death penalty is prohibited. The death penalty is not unconstitutional "in itself", but "it is invalid because it is applied arbitrarily and with a racist bias," the court said in a unanimous judgment.

A discriminatory death penalty

Its use varies "according to the place of the crime, the place of residence, the budgetary resources (of the courts) and the race of the accused," the judges still write. "As it is applied in our State, it does not serve any legitimate purpose. Thus, it violates the Constitution, "they conclude, before converting to life imprisonment all capital punishment pronounced in the state.

According to the Information Center on the Death Penalty (DPIC), eight inmates are concerned. The highest court in the state was seized of the case of Allen Eugene Gregory, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a woman committed in 1996. In his appeal, he joined a study, which found that death penalty was applied very differently from one court to another in Washington State and that, all other things being equal, the probability of being sentenced to death was four and a half times higher for blacks than for whites.

39 death sentences handed down in 2017

The Supreme Court of Washington recalls in its decision that it has already three times (in 1972, 1979 and 1981) declared unconstitutional the death penalty in that state, but that each time a new law was adopted. The state, however, has only carried out five executions since 1976 and its governor, Democrat Jay Inslee, had declared a moratorium on executions in 2014. On Thursday, he praised the court's decision, "an extremely important moment in the search for fair and equal justice ".

The death penalty is in decline in the United States, where only 39 death sentences were handed down in 2017, compared to 295 in 1998 or 114 in 2010. Of the thirty states where the death penalty remains possible, 16 have not done so. no execution since 1976. Since the beginning of the year, 18 inmates have been executed, including ten in Texas.

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