Our Voice: Include public in decisions about capital punishment

February 16, 2014 

Our governor has decided there will be no executions of death row inmates on his watch.

Even though the death penalty is legal in Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has decided he's going to make his own rules.

The death penalty hasn't been a hot topic here, and there have been no known cases of an innocent person being put to death. In other states some death row inmates have achieved near celebrity status as various groups fight for their freedom and cases of innocents being wrongly convicted have been discovered and righted.

But that hasn't happened here. Inslee's declaration came out of the blue.

While the death penalty is a divisive topic, this is not about the death penalty.

It's about the nerve of our governor to make such a monumental decision without a public debate.

His outlandish decision caught even seasoned prosecutors by surprise. No organized anti-death penalty campaign was being waged. Nobody even knew a debate was on the table.

The overuse of executive power is troubling on many levels in our country. Now our governor has decided to throw his weight around and override state law -- on a topic that wasn't even top of mind, no less.

While Inslee can't on his own abolish the death penalty in Washington, he can do a work-around that prevents any executions from happening while he's in office. As governor, he has to sign a death warrant for an execution to take place. So if he doesn't, there won't be an execution.

The governor also has the power to stay an execution.

Many are left scratching their heads as to why Inslee chose to take on the death penalty, wondering why he felt compelled to execute his ultimate authority on this subject at this time. Wielding his executive power should come only in the rarest of cases and for subjects that are compelled by our state's citizens.

Inlsee, a previous supporter of the death penalty, said he made the decision because of flaws with the process. Death penalty cases and convictions also are very costly to local jurisdictions and the state. Death sentences are almost always appealed, and that process can take up to 20 years to reach a final ruling.

Inslee says he has re-evaluated his position on the matter.

He won't go so far as to release people from prison who have been sentenced to death, putting those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes back among us. And for that we're thankful.

But, again, this discussion is really more about Inslee's decision to brandish his power in this way than it is about the merits of the death penalty.

Inslee should think long and hard before he makes another public declaration affecting the laws of our state without letting the citizens in on the process. It smacks of arrogance and shows he's out of touch with what the hot button issues are in Washington.

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