The Sentence Shall Not Be Death: But Why?

Washington State is now seriously considering abolishing the death penalty. The reason for the Legislature’s motivation matters.


THE WASHINGTON STATE legislature is now seriously considering passing a law that would abolish capital punishment in our state. Senate Bill 5372, and its companion House Bill 1504, would abolish the death penalty and instead mandate, for appropriate sentences, life without parole. The legislators who support this legislation believe it is not merely a fist in the air; for perhaps the first time the legislation has a legitimate chance of passing both legislative chambers and being signed into law by Governor Inslee.

This is not the first time our state’s legislature has tried to eradicate the death penalty: some version of the currently pending legislation has been introduced by a legislator several times before. But this year there is a momentum unlike during years past; this year there is something apparently crucial at stake: money.

State legislators argue that our death penalty is too expensive. It costs the state of Washington about $800,000 more to legally prosecute a death penalty case than a non-death penalty case. When our state is failing to make ends meet, the financial cost benefit analysis that favors eliminating the death penalty is certainly attractive. The money saved from prosecuting and administering death penalty cases would, for example, undoubtedly be better spent on such things as public education.

As beneficial as it would be for our state to dismantle its gallows (yes, Washington is one of two states that permits killing the condemned by “hanging by the neck until the defendant is dead”), there is something unsettling about the fact that mere dollars and cents offer the legislation’s best chance at success. Apart from any immediate budget concerns, there are compelling social, democratic, and human rights reasons for abolishing the death penalty that do not bend in winds of economic change.

For example, the death penalty provides very little, if any, social benefit. The death penalty does not deter crime as proponents claim: murder occurs much less in states that do not impose the death penalty than in states that do.

And it appears the fallibility of our justice system is too great to implement the irreversible penalty of death. The death penalty was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, but the ban was lifted by the Court in 1976. Since then, at least 130 people have been released from death row after being exonerated by favorable evidence. These figures show that states have, undeniably, executed innocent people who were wrongly convicted.

Perhaps the most persuasive reason to abolish the death penalty is that states should not be permitted to grant itself the right to take a person’s life. State execution, as Albert Camus described it, is more than just a death; it is in fact a perpetuation of the same violent conduct that capital punishment is supposedly meant to prevent. Except that when a state kills a person it completes the act with ceremony and fanfare: in Washington State, the condemned who die by lethal injection are ritually strapped to a chair at the witching hour on the day of their death and placed before viewing witnesses that some may consider and example of morbid voyeurism.  

These are all convincing reasons that appeal to higher standards of moral justice that should motivate our legislators to abolish capital punish. And when it does occur, the reason our legislators abolish the death penalty will matter. Indeed, consider this: if the legislation passes this year, will the legislature revive the death penalty when our coffers are once again full and the added savings are no longer needed?

Our state – and our government at-large – should rise above the conduct it condemns and not sink to the same heinous level of murderers. That our legislators are motivated now more than ever to abolish the death penalty simply to save a buck is, well, almost criminal.


Trent Latta can be reached at TrentLatta@gmail.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Joe M February 23, 2013 at 06:26 PM
Those three groups have one and only one thing in common with the ACLU. They're all organizations that get somebody riled up. His comment had nothing to do with hatred or anyone's political views - it was just intended to get a reaction.
Joe M February 23, 2013 at 07:18 PM
Thank you for saving me the trouble of trying to make you look like a foolish troll! Please, say more.
Karla Fay February 23, 2013 at 07:36 PM
How many of the proponents of the death penalty have actually lost a friend, family member, co-worker, or a close acquaintance to homicide? How many have actually gone through the process of the investigation, trial, and sentencing? I have a couple of times. And after the initial shock and desire for revenge, decided that life in prison without the possibility of parole was better than the death penalty. Think about this fact for a little bit. California homicide detectives were able to extradite the Hillside Strangler (arrested in Whatcom County and convicted here in Washington State) by pointing out to him that if he stayed here they were going to put him in Walla Walla -- where the prison gangs run the place. In other words, a life sentence in Walla Walla is a fate worse than death. Happily enough, that is exactly where they sent the guy I'm discussing here.
Joe February 25, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Edward A. Do you think I sounded like I was making a humorous statement? Instead of deflecting how about you please answer the question. If the state cannot put someone to death who would do an act like I described then what are we supposed to do with them?
Brad H. February 25, 2013 at 06:00 PM
It did kind of sound like you were cracking a joke. In fact, a few of the other contributers on this thread and I were talking just the other day, and we were all asking "who is that Joe guy who wrote that really funny comment about the crazy guy slaughtering 50 kids with a knife??"
Jaydee1958 February 25, 2013 at 08:14 PM
$800,000 to prosecute the death penality?! What a crock!!!! Feel good, warm fuzzy liberal judges. To house an inmate for a year is $75,000. In 10 1/2 years you exceed the 800K. You have a young criminal who slaughters someone. He's in his 20's. Average life expectancy is 73years. So for 50 plus years. The murderer gets three hots, a flop, medial and dental care. So to keep this thug a live it would cost approximately $2,400,000. This is for one just one. Yeah it is financially beneficial to inject the criminal and put him out of societies misery. You take a life, you forfeit yours. Do it QUICKLY and Save more money.
Jaydee1958 February 25, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Bet you support abortion don'tcha?
dexterjibs February 25, 2013 at 09:43 PM
I will reiterate the obvious. The law to do away with the punishment of "life without the possiblity of parole" has already been written and will be introduced as a bill a year or 2 after the death penalty is abolished. So the argument that a cold blooded killer will remain in prison forever is a false argument. No, cold blooded killers are better off being executed because someday they will get out of prison with the liberal lunkheads we have in this State.
Pauline February 25, 2013 at 09:57 PM
Which lawmaker has written this bill? I'd be interested to know. Oh, nobody? It hasn't REALLY already been written? You're just speaking hypothetically? That's what I thought.
Margaret Santjer February 25, 2013 at 10:00 PM
A comment has been deleted. Just a reminder to please keep the language clean when joining a discussion. Thanks.
Edward A. February 25, 2013 at 11:53 PM
No, I didn't really. I am guessing you were making a serious statement, but were forced to substitute a plausible weapon (some kind of gun) for an implausible weapon (a knife), because you have a pro-gun viewpoint, and wouldn't want to cast these tools in a bad light. Anyway, here's my answer (which I already stated above, and I didn't think needed repetition): I don't support the death penalty for any crime. Lock them up, and throw away the key. You're assuming there are people worthy of the death penalty. While I might take some personal comfort from revenge in a heinous case like that, I don't want the state killing people in my name, regardless of their crimes. To me, it's a matter of principle. Incidentally, I have that in common with the earliest Christians, many of whom were very stalwart pacifists. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_pacifism
Sarah I February 26, 2013 at 12:07 AM
An eye for an eye only makes the world blind. If murder is illegal, why should the death penalty be legal? It does not make sense to punish a murderer with death when that is exactly why they are being punished. It's hypocritical.
Jaydee1958 February 26, 2013 at 02:18 AM
Sarah....It's NOT hypocritical for the STATE to terminate a criminals life. It is a deterrant to others. You take somone's life, you forfeit your own. It's Biblical.
Jaydee1958 February 26, 2013 at 02:33 AM
Stop the insanity!!!! I give you all Gary Ridgeway. If anyone deserves the death penality it's him!! He murdered 47 plus women (that we know of). He gets life in prison. $75,000 per year to keep him alive 10 years $750,000 if he lives that long. 1.5 million if he lives for 20. $1,000 for a firing squad. Let Satan have him quickly.
Edward A. February 26, 2013 at 04:00 AM
Hi Jaydee1958. Two things (and some questions): First, no, it is not a deterrent. You believe something is true in spite of the large amount of evidence against it. Why do you believe it? Are you willing to let go of that belief? Law enforcement officers don't think it is a deterrent: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/law-enforcement-views-deterrence Criminologists don't think it is a deterrent: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/files/DeterrenceStudy2009.pdf The murder rate is generally higher in states that have a death penalty: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterrence-states-without-death-penalty-have-had-consistently-lower-murder-rates Second, you say it is Biblical. Do you think Jesus would have been a death penalty supporter? If so, why do you think that? Thanks!
Edward A. February 26, 2013 at 04:02 AM
So if it is cheaper to kill criminals, is that the only criterion you'd use to determine whether it is moral for your government to kill?
Edward A. February 26, 2013 at 04:03 AM
Also, I am not sure where $75,000/year came from. I linked a source above that shows it is less: http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/the-price-of-prisons-40-fact-sheets-updated-072012.pdf Where did you get that number?
Jaydee1958 February 26, 2013 at 05:12 AM
Edward A: Try reading Gensis 9:6. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. Start terminating killers, quickly without mercy. It would stop. I fully advocate the Chinese method of dealing with criminals. Public execution.
Edward A. February 26, 2013 at 06:13 AM
Are you suggesting the Old Testament should serve as a model for our society? Do you realize that you sound *exactly* like the Taliban when you say that? Naturally, I am aware the Bible says murderers should be killed. I am also aware it prescribes death for: Adultery, homosexual sex, failing to observe the Sabbath, hitting or cursing at your parents, or being a rebellious son! If you think any of those "crimes" warrant the death penalty, then your religion is abhorrent. If you don't, then your religion is inconsistent with the Bible. I'd love to hear you explain why those crimes shouldn't be punished by execution, but murder should be -- will you oblige me?
Jaydee1958 February 26, 2013 at 02:53 PM
Edward A; What does GOD say about himself? GOD gave man the "Okay" to put murderers to death. NOT INDIVIDUALS. GOD allows governments (the state) to do so. I believe that drug dealers (meth, coke, heroine) should be put to death. I'm not advocating the killing of everyone for every crime. Murder-yes, Drug dealers-yes, Child Molesters-yes. Rapists-castration. You just want to lock everyone up. There is a tremendous price to pay socially and financially for those endeavors.
Pauline February 26, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Two problems with your arguement: 1) it has been proven again and again that the death penalty is NOT a deterrant to others, and 2) your comment about "it's Biblical" is irrelevant because the last time I checked, we do not live in a religious theocracy.
Edward A. February 26, 2013 at 04:14 PM
How did you determine God said it was OK for governments -- but not men -- to kill? You are just creating your own scripture here, because it suits your desires. God also said the death penalty was required for (I am repeating myself, because you ignored this point): Adultery, homosexual sex, failing to observe the Sabbath, hitting or cursing at your parents, and being a rebellious son. Let me know if you want chapter and verse for each of these. Of course, I don't care what the Bible says, particularly the Old Testament. It is barbaric. And you agree. You just pick out the parts you agree with and completely ignore the rest of it.
Pauline February 26, 2013 at 04:17 PM
Jaydee, try reading Leviticus. If you want to take everything literally in your Bible, then children who talk back to their parents should be hauled into the town square and stoned to death. Same goes for divorced women. So let's all try to live in the 21st century and not be so literal. And BTW, if you consider yourself a Christian, what are you doing quoting the OLD Testament? Maybe you should go back and read the Sermon on the Mount a few times instead.
Pam Pollock February 27, 2013 at 08:13 PM
But it is ok for Obama to keep his hit list.....I am with Local Guy. Ditto the comment on what it costs to maintain these murderers deemed to dangerous to be released into society. Do the math. Obviously none of you have had an innocent family member killed by a ruthless gang member.
Edward A. February 28, 2013 at 02:06 AM
If you think the role of the state is to exact revenge for victims of crime, then I see the source of the disconnect. The criminal justice system could serve multiple purposes (I've probably left some out): * Revenge * Rehabilitation * Punishment * Public safety Historically, the balance has shifted back and forth (and currently seems focused on warehousing them in the interest of public safety), but, in first-world countries, generally away from the goal of exacting revenge. No, it isn't OK for Barack Obama to kill American citizens. As I said elsewhere: I don't want the state killing citizens in my name, and that applies to the drone attacks authorized by President Obama as well. "Ditto the comment on what it costs to maintain these murderers deemed to dangerous to be released into society. Do the math." Do you understand that, for some people, it is a matter of principle for the state to not kill citizens, and cost is not the deciding factor? "Obviously none of you have had an innocent family member killed by a ruthless gang member." First, statistically, you probably haven't either if you live on Eastside King County. Second, even if you have, it is unlikely the killer was sentenced to die, as there have only been 13 (five executed, eight on death row) since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. If I guessed wrong, I am sorry for your loss. I can sympathize with your desire to see the perpetrator killed, I don't want the state to do it.
dexterjibs February 28, 2013 at 03:47 AM
Oh Pauline, I know you are not a simpleton like you comment implies. You know law makers don't write or read most of the bills that are introduced. It is partisan ideologues that attach themselves to politicians that dictate and write laws. The politican is the tool they use to introduce it into teh legislative body. Look at ObamaCare. Obama didn't write that, partisan hacks looking to destroy the US health industry wrote it.
employee February 28, 2013 at 04:09 AM
No, dex, Mitt Romney wrote "obamacare". Want a reference? A hyperlink or two?
employee February 28, 2013 at 04:14 AM
Dex, why do you have to call someone a derogitory name every time you post, thats kind of rude. Maybe people would be more inclined to agree with your crazy logic, if you stopped calling them simpletons, or libtards, ect, ect.
Edward A. February 28, 2013 at 08:07 AM
Ignore him. He thinks identifying him as a troll is "demonizing" him, but it is clearly the case, by his own admission, that he enjoys getting under peoples' skin. I think it is like basic sustenance to him, and I refuse to provide him with any, although he probably doesn't notice when anyone ignores him, because there are usually people willing to take the bait. If he ever manages to dial it back a few notches, tries to be civil and uses evidence-based arguments without continuously turning to ad hominem, I will stop ignoring him.
Pauline February 28, 2013 at 04:52 PM
OK, dex, I'll change my question: Instead of "which lawmaker has already written this bill", I'll ask you "WHO has already written this bill"? Semantics, yeah. You know darn well what the question was. So you seem to know the bill has already been written...I was just asking how you know this and who wrote it. And again, I'll predict that you will dodge and not answer this question, because there is no answer, because you were just making things up when you said the bill has already been written. BTW, if you continue to call me (and others) "simpleton" and "libtard" in your comments, I will continue to notify the Patch moderator that your comments should be removed.


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