As of Monday, January 15, 2018
OLYMPIA State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is pushing lawmakers to eliminate the death penalty and require first-degree murder convicts to serve life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Ferguson has requested Senate Bill 6052 after similar bills failed to make it through committee last year.
“I’m reasonably optimistic that this could be the year,” Ferguson said. “The votes are there.”
Despite other legislative priorities, Ferguson said this year might be different with Democrats controlling the Senate.
“The fact is that taxpayers foot the multi-million dollar appeals process for the accused and we spend $50,000/year for incarceration,” Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, the bill’s prime sponsor, wrote in an email.
“A life sentence with no chance of early release saves money and issues the ultimate punishment by denying the convicted their freedom and liberties for life just as they did their victim.”
Not denying an individual’s right to appeal, Walsh also noted there are cases in which an individual can be exonerated if new evidence arises.
Still, the appeals process and litigation for these cases can cost millions, which Walsh said outweighs the cost of keeping someone in prison for life in many cases.
In a 2015 Seattle University School of Law study examining 147 aggravated first-degree murder cases since 1997, authors estimated the average cost of capital punishment cases to be more than $3 million.
Cases that did not seek the death penalty averaged about $2 million.
The largest differentiating factors were trial-level prosecution costs 2.3 times more expensive in capital punishment cases, court and police costs 3.9 times more costly and appeals 5.7 times more costly.
Walsh said the economic argument is compelling, but she says stories of the lives affected by the death penalty are also worth discussing.
There are currently eight incarcerated individuals on death row according to the state Department of Corrections.
The last person executed in the state was Cal Coburn Brown in 2010.
In February 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered a moratorium on executions.
The moratorium allows Inslee to grant reprieves so no prisoners are executed, but he does not pardon them.
According to a press release last year, capital punishment is “unequally applied” and “sometimes dependent on the size of the county’s budget.”