OLYMPIA – The Washington Senate today voted 28-19 to eliminate the death penalty in Washington law and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release or parole.

Senate Bill 5339, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), makes Washington statute consistent with a 2018 decision in which the state Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty as unconstitutional after ruling it was administered in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.

The court reached based its conclusion on statistical evidence showing significant county-by-county variation in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty. The court noted that African-American defendants were four-and-a-half times more likely to receive a death sentence than white defendants in similar cases.

“I have the deepest personal respect for how important this issue is for victims’ families and I’m so grateful for the reflection and grace of the dialogue in the Legislature,” said Carlyle, who has repeatedly sponsored legislation to end the death penalty in Washington over the last decade. “I’m pleased that our state is on the path toward joining the global movement toward abolishing the death penalty.

“Closing the books on this chapter in our state’s history is a responsible public policy step, given where the courts and our state have come, and this measure solidifies our statute in a way that makes it clear and unequivocal for years to come. After working on this issue for so long, I’m pleased and incredibly humbled that the state Senate has taken this important step forward.”

The bill will now proceed to the House of Representatives.

Washington’s death penalty law, enacted in 1981, had not been enforced since 2014, when Gov. Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on state executions. Nineteen other states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, and gubernatorial moratoria are in place in three more states.