Washington state's Supreme Court just tossed out its death penalty — here are the states that still have the power to execute prisoners

  • Washington state’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the death penalty violates its constitution.
  • Capital punishment has reached record lows across the US – at both the state and federal levels.
  • Though most states still technically retain the death penalty, very few actually use it.

Washington state’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the death penalty violates its constitution because it has been “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

The ruling declared that all eight of the state’s prisoners who are currently on death row will now serve life sentences instead.

“The use of the death penalty is unequally applied – sometimes by where the crime took place, or the county of residence, or the available budgetary resources at any given point in time, or the race of the defendant,” the justices wrote in their ruling. “The death penalty, as administered in our state, fails to serve any legitimate penological goal.”

Washington isn’t alone – data show that use of the death penalty has steadily declined since the 1970s, and few states still execute prisoners regularly.

Though the majority of states still retain capital punishment, few of them have actually used it in recent years. There are even 16 states that haven’t executed a single prisoner since 1976,according to The Marshall Project.

As the death penalty fades out of use across the country, many states have even put the issue on the ballot in recent years. But voters have been reluctant to abolish capital punishment completely, no matter how rarely it’s used.

Death penalty in united states mapShayanne Gal/Business Insider

Here are all the states that still retain the death penalty, but haven’t executed anyone in at least five years:

States death penalty haven't executed 5 years mapShayanne Gal/Business Insider

Harvard researchers found in 2016 that the US’s use of the death penalty is mainly fuelled by just a handful of counties – they’re known as “outlier” counties and they’re scattered throughout states like Texas, Alabama, and Florida.

The researchers found that the counties that still actively pursue the death penalty tend to have several factors in common: overzealous prosecutors, inadequate defence attorneys, and racial bias.

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