Posted by: Tim Sweeney | February 23, 2014

Policy Junkie: Inslee Reframes Debate over Death Penalty

Tim Sweeney is The Policy Junkie

Tim Sweeney is The Policy Junkie

While one may find fault with the timing and tactic, Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement earlier this month that he will not allow executions during his term may very will reframe how we debate the future of capital punishment.

Avoiding the more emotional argument of whether executions should be part of our justice system, Governor Insee has calmly laid out why he thinks our capital punishment system is broken:

  1. Since 1981, the year our current capital laws went into effect, 60 percent (19 out of 32) of those with convicted capital offenses in Washington have had their sentences overturned.”When the majority of death penalty sentences lead to reversal, the entire system itself must be called into question.”

  2. The system is expensive. “Studies have shown that a death penalty case from start to finish is more expensive than keeping someone in prison for the rest of their lives – even if they live to be 100 years of age.”

  3. The process takes too long. The crimes of most death row inmates are more than 15 years old. One crime occurred 26 years ago. “While they sit on death row and pursue appeal after appeal, the families of their victims must constantly revisit their grief at the additional court proceedings.”

  4. According to the National Academy of Sciences, “there is no credible evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder.”

  5. The death penalty is not always applied to the most heinous offenders.

Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee

The governor’s announcement was met with a mix of positive and negative responses. Notably on the positive side, a Seattle Times editorial: “Capital punishment fails the sober metrics of good public policy” and comments by former Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Utter captured by Brad Shannon of The Olympian. “One of the tragedies of having the death penalty … is that it leaves the public with a feeling that they are safe.”

Also, former Whatcom County Superior Court Judge David Nichols points out in an opinion article that the “death penalty is a lottery of geography–prosecutors in various counties differ widely on whether they seek the death penalty.”  Three of the of nine currently on death row committed their crimes in Pierce County.

Aside from the usual “soft on crime” accusations, the main argument against Governor Inslee’s announcement is that he is overstepping his authority by making the announcement that he will commute the sentence to life prior to receiving a death warrant.

“The system we have in our state directs the Legislature to decide whether execution is an appropriate penalty for the most horrendous murders, while the governor decides on a case-by-case basis if that penalty has been applied inappropriately, ” said Senator Steve O’Ban (R-Pierce County), who introduced legislation to require the governor to wait on a recommendation from the state pardons board before making a decision.

Governor Inslee, who is an attorney, and who has many other attorneys available for guidance, will follow our state laws on how to process a death warrant. His announcement was WHEN one crosses his desk, he will commute it to a life sentence without parole.

His point was to draw attention to the fact that the system is not working and it’s time to talk about what should be done about it.

“With my action today I expect Washington state will join a growing national conversation about capital punishment. I welcome that and I’m confident that our citizens will engage in this very important debate.”

For further reading, the Washington State Bar Association issued a very detailed report on the efficacy of the state’s capital punishment.



  1. I agree with the Governor. I think that the Death Penalty should be abolished period. Like your information says it is not a deterrent for murder. If one is going to murder he or she is going to murder—-they are not going to think about the death penalty. Also I am not sure how “pro-lifers and so called Christians” can be for capitol murder by the state. Jesus didn’t say that the state should murder people—that is what it is, state sanctioned murder. Also life is life and the pro-lifers sanction state sponsored murder, how can one say they are pro-life and be pro state murder????

    • And to follow that logic there is NO need for any gun laws.

      • Wrong we absolutely need safe and sane gun laws. I don’t know where I said that we don’t need those Wayne. I am a retired military man and know what guns can do. I don’t want to ban guns as I believe in hunting and target shooting but I do believe that there should be background checks and limiting magazines to no more than ten rounds. Those are sensible and will not infringe on the 2nd amendment rights—-although if one reads the who sentence, it does say for a “well regulated militia.”

  2. And what about the victims?

    Using that logic we should ban hate crime punishment.

    • Good question. What about the victims? The Governor’s point is that the death penalty does not deliver justice. So what about the victims of the Green River Killer and the Wah Me Massacre or the victims of over 7,000 homicide cases reviewed in a study between 1981 and 2005 that did not result in the death penalty? What about the victims of the 254 cases that met the criteria for the death penalty during that time but resulted in only 79 cases seeking the death penalty. Or the victims of the death penalty verdict cases that were overturned? None of those cases resulted in an execution. Even if you accept executions as a reasonable punishment (and clearly Bob does not and that opinion should be respected, just as yours should be), we are investing in a system that does not deliver justice. What is your suggestion for fixing it?

      • The death penalty is not justice. It is just vengeance and that makes the state just as culpable as the criminal. As a matter of fact it is immoral and criminal to have the death penalty.

  3. To steal a quote from someone, “Life is life.” That is the other thing that should be considered. “Life Sentence” should be just that. And nowhere do I see the need for soft treatment of these offenders. If we’re going to sentence them to life, then lets not bother with parole hearings, nobody wants them on the street. They can rejoin society when their victims do, and not before. And Prison is not supposed to be a resort or a college. Making it bare bones and perhaps a bit unpleasant is NOT cruel and unusual punishment. If you can’t do the time (in this case, Life) don’t do the crime.

    • I agree Sandy. Life should be life and it can be in solitary or some such environment and I don’t believe in time off for good behavior. If they had good behavior they wouldn’t be in prison in the first place.

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