On Thursday, October 11, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the death penalty violates the Washington State constitution‘s prohibition on “cruel punishment.” In its ruling, the Court cited research by UW Center for Human Rights Faculty Associate Prof. Katherine Beckett and UW Lecturer Heather Evans, who conducted the first study regarding the impact of race on the application of the death penalty in Washington State.
The report by Beckett and Evans found that black defendants were more likely to be sentenced to death than white defendants. The court specifically cited this finding in its opinion, noting that from “December 1981 through May of 2014, special sentencing proceedings in Washington State involving Black defendants were between 3.5 and 4.6 times as likely to result in a death sentence as proceedings involving non-Black defendants.”
Read more about the court’s decision and the research supporting it in Crosscut and Slate, and read Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans’ original report, “The Role of Race in Washington State Capital Sentencing, 1981-2014”.
The UW Center for Human Rights congratulates our colleagues Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans for their extraordinary work and its transformative impact on the justice system in Washington State. Learn more about Prof. Katherine Beckett’s work with the Rethinking Punishment project, which is bringing restorative justice principles into practice in Washington State.