Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court of Washington ruled that the death penalty laws of the state violated the constitution. According to DeathPenaltyInfo.org, there are 30 states in the country that impose the death penalty, including Georgia. 20 states prohibit the death penalty, as it was either abolished or overturned over the years.
The Case: State v. Gregory
The decision in State v. Gregory involved a man who had been convicted by a jury of aggravated first degree murder and was punished with the death penalty. Gregory appealed the conviction and the case was remanded for resentencing. A different jury sentenced Gregory to death, a verdict which he appealed. Gregory challenged Washington State’s death penalty system claiming it is imposed justice in a racially biased and arbitrary manner, and commissioned a study on the effect of race and county on the courts’ imposition of the death penalty. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an amicus brief urging the state Supreme Court to strike down Washington’s death penalty system. Its brief argued that the system is unfair, arbitrary, and racially biased.
The Higher Court’s Decision
In reaching its conclusion, the Washington Supreme Court relied heavily on the conclusions and analysis that came from the study. The study revealed that special sentencing proceedings in the state of Washington that involved black defendants were 3.5 to 4.6 more likely to result in a death sentence than those involving non-black defendants. The court ultimately held that Washington’s death penalty is administered in a racially biased and arbitrary manner and failed to serve its sentencing goals. Consequently, the Washington Supreme Court ordered that all death sentences in Washington be converted to life imprisonment.
Georgia: Death Penalty
No executions have occurred in the past five years in 38 states plus three jurisdictions that either do not have the death penalty or have not executed prisoners under the law. The state of Georgia has executed 70 people since 1976. Three crimes in Georgia punishable by death are treason, aircraft highjacking, and murder with the following aggravating circumstances:
- Has a prior capital conviction.
- Was in the process of committing another capital crime, aggravated battery, burglary, or arson.
- Used or possessed a weapon or device capable of causing significant harm to more than one person simultaneously.
- Committed offense for monetary gain.
- Was in the custody of, or had escaped from, law enforcement or a correctional facility.
- Was resisting arrest.
- Had a prior conviction for rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, or aggravated sexual battery.
- Hired another to commit the murder or committed it for hire.
Or the victim:
- Was or had been a judicial officer, district attorney, or solicitor general, and was murdered for reasons relating to their employment as such.
- Was tortured.
- Was a law enforcement officer or firefighter and was performing his/her official duties.
Notably, Georgia has been the key state involved in both landmark U.S. Supreme Court death penalty decisions: Furman v. Georgia (1972) where the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty nationwide. But, the death penalty was reinstated nationally by the same court in Gregg v. Georgia (1976).